TheFace: Alaa Bahri, Saudi Arabia’s first licensed ocularist

Alaa Bahri and her twins Cayan and Maleeka. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 21 June 2019

TheFace: Alaa Bahri, Saudi Arabia’s first licensed ocularist

When I was young I did not know exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew I wanted to do something special.

Eventually, I decided I wanted to be an ocularist, which is someone who makes and fits artificial eyes. This was a big challenge. There are no schools that teach this skill; usually it is passed down from one generation to the next, so you have to be a member of a family that is already in the business. I was not.

The other challenge I faced was convincing my family to allow me study this unusual subject, as they were concerned about the risks of pursuing a career in something so unfamiliar and uncommon.

I persisted, however, and contacted the Laisca family of ocularists in Barcelona, Spain, who agreed to teach me their techniques for making artificial eyes. My education did not end there, as I was keen to learn more, and as I searched for information I found the American Society of Ocularists. I registered with it and found a certified ocularist with whom I could train, while also attending courses and classes, to become an apprentice or an associate. I went to Houston, Texas, and trained with Soper Brothers, which is well-known name in the field. However, I struggled to obtain a visa after 9/11 and so I could not work full time as an apprentice or study full time at college.

Nevertheless, I was more interested and determined than ever to learn about making artificial eyes, and so I went to Paris to learn new methods from the company Dencott. Then I returned to Saudi Arabia to open my own practice. This was another difficulty, as it was not easy to get a license for a clinic because it was a new field in the Kingdom.

After four years I managed to open my clinic and became the first licensed ocularist in Saudi Arabia. My parents, especially my dad, helped me a lot with the business and my mom was always there for me when I had to go to a meeting or appointment and needed her to look after my twins, Cayan and Maleeka. My family supported me all the way and encouraged me to succeed in something that I love to do. They understood how happy this made me and how it would change the lives of a lot of people.

Cayan and Maleeka are my support system; it is not easy to work and raise kids but I will always encourage them to choose a career that they love and to be creative. Loving what you do is a blessing. I try to explain to my kids sometimes how important my job is and what it means to my patients. Sometimes it means that I might be busy or exhausted and not always around for them, but I am doing something I know is special — I am putting smiles on faces and changing lives.

I am now a member of the American Society of Ocularists and working to become the first board-certified ocularist in the Middle East but still have a few years to go before I earn that. 


GCC summit calls for greater economic and defense unity among Gulf countries 

Updated 10 December 2019

GCC summit calls for greater economic and defense unity among Gulf countries 

  • Heads of the delegations land in Riyadh before the 40th Supreme Council meeting gets under way
  • King Salman tells the summit that the GCC has overcome many crises in its history

RIYADH: The GCC summit called for greater regional economic and defense integration as the meeting chaired by King Salman came to a close in Riyadh on Tuesday.

The final statement, read by GCC General Secretary Abdullatif Al-Zayani, called for finalizing legislation for financial and monetary unity by 2025, according to the meeting's final communique.

The statement also called for boosting military and security cooperation to maintain regional security.

“The leaders of the GCC countries have affirmed today their keenness to preserve the strength, cohesion and strength of the GCC …  as an oasis of stability, security, economic prosperity and social peace,” the statement said.

It referred to attacks in the last year against Saudi Arabia, including coordinated missile and drone strikes against major oil facilities blamed on Iran.

The statement said the GCC states “stand unified against the attacks” and that this reflected the Gulf defense agreement that says “aggression against a member state would be considered as aggression against all the GCC states.”

“The highest goal of the Cooperation Council is to achieve coordination, integration and interdependence among the member states in all fields in order to reach their unity,” it said.

The 40th Supreme Council meeting was chaired by King Salman, who met the heads of each delegation as they landed.

They included the UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Oman's Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers Fahd bin Mahmoud Al-Said and Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

In his opening remarks, King Salman said the GCC had managed to overcome many crises that the region has faced.

He said the current set of challenges “call for concerted efforts to confront them.”

“The Iranian regime continues its hostile actions to undermine security and stability and support terrorism,” the king said.

He said the GCC must “work with the international community to stop the interference of this regime, deal seriously with its nuclear program and the program to develop ballistic missiles.”

There was no mention in the final communique of the dispute between Qatar and other Gulf and Arab countries. 

But Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah was the most senior Qatari official to attend the GCC summit since 2017 - the same year Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt launched a boycott of Qatar over its links to extremist groups among other things.

Speaking after the meeting, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said: “The four countries (boycotting Qatar) continue to support the efforts of the Kuwaiti Emir and value their success.”

Al-Zayani, who is stepping down as secretary general, said all the GCC leaders had praised the efforts of the Emir of Kuwait in preserving the unity of the cooperation. 

At a preparatory meeting on Monday, Gulf foreign ministers approved the nomination of former Kuwaiti Finance Minister Nayef Al-Hajraf as the next secretary-general of the GCC.

His term will begin in April 2020 following the end of Al-Zayani’s term.