Editorial: ‘Abu Sin’ deserves a tryout, not a trial!

A YouTube grab of ‘Abu Sin’.
Updated 02 October 2016

Editorial: ‘Abu Sin’ deserves a tryout, not a trial!

It is not surprising that the curious case of Saudi teenager “Abu Sin” has generated global news headlines, particularly that despite it being a few days since his arrest, only a few people — if any — seem to know what exactly was it that he did which was illegal!
If you are unaware of the story, here are the details: A bubbly and incredibly entertaining young Saudi, known by the nickname of “Abu Sin” (which means “toothless”), was arrested on charges of “unethical behavior” after appearing in online video exchanges with 21-year-old American vlogger, Christina Crockett.
Police claimed the videos were “enticing” and invited “negative attention” from viewers around the world.
The humorous exchanges between the two show them battling to communicate despite geographical, cultural and language barriers (Christina doesn’t speak Arabic, Abu Sin doesn’t speak English!). The clips were originally shown live on social streaming live site, You Now, and are now available on a vast array of news and video sites, including YouTube.
In one of the exchanges, Abu Sin performs a funny dance invoking the laughter of his friends, and in another, he dons a traditional Saudi headdress and sings Christina a love song before — jokingly or not — asking her to marry him.
Col. Fawaz Al-Mayman, a spokesperson for Riyadh police, said Abu Sin was arrested for “unethical behavior.”
“His videos received many comments and many of the commenters of the general public demanded he be punished for his actions,” he added, according to the Saudi Gazette.
Undoubtedly some people around the globe will be shocked at the causes of Abu Sin’s arrest, as to most people — including most Saudis — his actions are regarded as nothing more than an innocent, playful exchange between two youngsters.
Meanwhile, his case has gained momentum within the Kingdom itself. There currently are opposing social views sparring over whether or not Abu Sin deserves to be sent to trial “for his silliness which made people laugh (at us).”
Of course, not everyone believes Abu Sin was silly … and even if he was, when did being “silly” ever become a crime?
Furthermore, sadly there are those who believe it is a good thing that Abu Sin is currently behind bars, arguing that it is probably the safest place for him to be after upsetting ultra-conservative members of society, who may opt to take justice into their own hands!
This by far is the worst justification that could ever be given. Those who hold such an awful view must carefully remember that they are wrongfully implying that the Kingdom suffers from a lawless society, whereby bullies and thugs must be feared and respected … this is simply and categorically NOT TRUE.

A legal grey area

Yes, there are media laws in Saudi Arabia which prohibit public incitement and obscenity, and at the end of the day everyone — without exception — must respect and abide by the laws of the land. However, while the authorities rightfully pursue hate preachers who propagate terrorist ideas which result in crimes, it would be wise for room to be made for legally questionable situations like this, where there is no clear case … nor a proven, direct harm to anyone.
Unfortunately, Abu Sin has fallen within a legal grey area which recent leaps in communication technology has created. In a way, he is no different than other victims of social media posts who had not intended to cause harm.
On this front, Saudi Arabia is not unique and courts in countries like the US and UK are full of lawsuits against people who innocently posted material but ended up being sued for libel or causing public distress.
Of course, while nobody can prevent lawsuits being filed, it is not necessarily that they are heard, or that the accused are necessarily found guilty.
Yet, one thing that raises serious concerns in the Col. Al-Mayman quotes, which the Saudi Gazette carried, was where he implied that “Abu Sin” was arrested based on demands of public opinion.
If this is the case, then let it be known that this published opinion believes Abu Sin should be released … and given his own television show!

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.