How Arab News helped support one Saudi woman’s dreams

How Arab News helped support one Saudi woman’s dreams
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Updated 20 April 2020

How Arab News helped support one Saudi woman’s dreams

How Arab News helped support one Saudi woman’s dreams
  • Lina Almaeena was teen editor in chief of the Jeddah Girls Gazette
  • Her 1995 article ‘Wild Female Dreams’ envisioned more freedoms

JEDDAH: “Wild Female Dreams” is the title of my article as a teen editor in chief of the Jeddah Girls Gazette in 1995. Writers and contributors were dynamic high-school friends and family members. My uncle Tariq was our mentor and publisher. 

It took 25 years for all my teenage dreams to come true. My first dream turned into reality on June 24, 2018, when women were allowed to drive, not just their cars but also the country’s development. It was one of the most liberating feelings I have ever experienced, simple as it may have seemed to women living outside the Kingdom.

I dreamt in my article about women in the police force, only to see in 2018-2019 women progress as far as joining security services, drug enforcement and military jobs, with possible ranks from private soldier to sergeant in the army’s branches of ground, navy and air defense.

My third dream, as simple as it may have seemed, related to the sense of modesty for women. In the 1990s, there were no women in retail, and salesmen dominated female apparel outlets. The campaign in 2008, headed by Reem Assad and aimed at replacing salesmen with women in lingerie shops, made waves and eventually victory was achieved by a royal decree in 2011.

My fourth dream was to buy tickets to attend a local match in Saudi Arabia. That came true in January 2018 when I attended the first local match in King Abdullah Aljohara Stadium between Alahli Club and Al-Batin FC. It was an ecstatic feeling with beautiful and respectful cheering crowds, eroding certain segments’ fears regarding a possible catastrophe with women attending games in stadiums. 

My fifth dream was to switch on the TV and watch girls play basketball. That came true in 2017 when Jeddah United women’s basketball team participated as the first local team under the Saudi Arabian Basketball Federation in the fourth Arab Club tournament in Sharjah, the UAE, and winning the tournament’s sportsmanship award.

As I reflect 25 years later on the Jeddah Girls Gazette article, I realize I had listed six dreams, of which the last long-awaited one came true in August 2019: The lifting of a travel ban for women without a male guardian. Even though the travel permit was not a personal issue, I still felt the relief for many women of all ages with various circumstances. Widows who had to get permission from their sons was an ironic example.

Twenty-five years may seem like a long time, but in the context of women’s evolution, and considering the young age of Saudi Arabia as a country united in 1932, it is considered a fast pace. I say that now since all restrictive walls have fallen.

That is not how it felt years ago, with continuous frustrations and limitations, especially as a teenager. But women have endured and struggled for decades all over the world; in Saudi Arabia, it took less than five years since the announcement of our Vision 2030 reform plan on April 25, 2016, for transformation to take place.

A famous Japanese proverb states that a vision without an action plan is a daydream, but an action plan without a vision is a nightmare. I am proud and humbled to say we have one of the most promising and empowering visions. Vision 2030 has enabled 50 percent of the population to play an active part in nation-building. 

That is not to say women did not contribute prior to that. If I just look at my immediate family, my mother Samar Fatany was one of the first TV and radio presenters in the Ministry of Information in the 1970s.

During her 35 years at the ministry, she was the chief broadcaster of the English section at the Jeddah Broadcasting Station, a columnist for Arab News and the Saudi Gazette, and a participant in many local and international conferences. She also has four publications to her name, the last titled “Modernizing Saudi Arabia,” published in 2013. 

Times have changed, indeed. It was only in 2013 that women joined the Shoura Council. I am honored to have joined the 2016 second term for women on the council as I strive to recommend reformist legislation and participate in a friendship committee that communicates with parliamentarians around the world.

Reflecting on all my dreams, and on this occasion of the 45th anniversary of Arab News, the newspaper known as the “Green Truth” played a huge role in female empowerment. It was one of the first papers that hired women in a mixed environment. It was the only local paper that was happy to cover our first women’s street basketball tournament in 2006-2007, when all other publications politely refused. 

If I were to ask myself what my dreams are today, I would say I dream of more women actively participating in decision-making in Saudi Arabia and the globe. I dream of world peace, I dream of a green planet, but above all in these times, I dream of a healthy planet, conquering COVID-19 and having treatments available for all illnesses.

As we experience the curfew, I also get to do something I was never able to do in the past. I ride my bike safely around my neighborhood before the 3 p.m. curfew and visit the mini-market next to my house. 

All I can think about is the last two questions in my article “Wild Female Dreams.” Can these dreams be reality? Can the impossible be possible? The answer is a double YES. But we will need a newspaper to document this, and what better one than Arab News to do so. Happy 45th anniversary and many more anniversaries to come.

• Lina Almaeena is a member of  the Shoura Council, co-founder of the Jeddah United Sports Co., and on Forbes’ list of Most Powerful Women in the Middle East. She is also a member of the Top 20 Young Leaders of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Region.


‘How do we get smarter? With better data’

‘How do we get smarter? With better data’
Updated 22 January 2021

‘How do we get smarter? With better data’

‘How do we get smarter? With better data’
  • Media innovator Tarek Daouk on the key trends shaping the Middle East’s business future

DUBAI: In January 2020, Tarek Daouk, CEO of media and advertising group Dentsu MENA, sat with his leadership team discussing what they believed was a generally optimistic year ahead for business. Fast-forward six weeks later and the whole world was in crisis.

“There was no way to predict what was going to happen, and how fast and how bad this was going to affect people and businesses across the world,” he said, recalling the widespread uncertainty at the time.

Although Daouk hopes COVID-19 vaccines will help the world get back on its feet, “the unpredictability of how we plan and make the business flexible enough to react to things that we cannot predict will always be there.”

Business challenges

The key challenges that businesses faced in 2020 — and will continue to face as the economy improves — are supply and demand, and cost infrastructure.

Daouk said that many clients faced logistical challenges due to restrictions on supply from outside the region, resulting in a delay in business activities.

“Obviously, this is easiest to sort out as things go back to normal,” he said.

However, the bigger issue is that of demand. Due to lack of job stability and an economic downturn, consumers became wary and even as the supply chain returns to normal, it will be a while before consumer confidence bounces back.

“That’s also the role of businesses, especially marketing and advertising, to restore people’s confidence in investment,” he added.

The second challenge is that of cost infrastructure across cities and sectors in the region where the cost of doing business was already high. Rents, especially, play a major role, with businesses forced to close their offices still paying high rents.

Geopolitical scenario

However, Daouk sees a silver lining largely on the back of Dubai and Saudi Arabia’s potential. It is an ideal time for Dubai to play a role as a hub beyond the MENA region.

Due to its location, Dubai is a strategic spot for businesses operating across Europe, Asia and the MENA region, which is critical at a time when Europe is still relatively locked down.

“I have met a few companies that are headquartered in Europe and many are considering relocating their headquarters to Dubai,” he said.

Moreover, as company structures change, there is room for a more mobile headquarters, which can be moved from one country to another depending on the business’ focus market at a given time.

Saudi Arabia is Dentsu’s largest and most significant market in the region with the highest per capita gross domestic product. Vision 2030 has opened up new avenues of doing business in the Kingdom that are already attracting investment, with the Kingdom’s investment in tourism and local entertainment giving the country a big push and strong potential to bounce back, Daouk said.

Increased digitization

With investments in digital advertising climbing well over 50 percent of the total ad spend in 2020, it is clear that businesses are seeing the benefits and reaping the rewards of their investments.

Daouk highlights the move toward digitization for business transformation, with companies investing in moving data to the cloud through products such as Microsoft Azure, and using the data to model business and advertising decisions.

“It allows you to put a layer of analytics on top of the data to help these businesses in their decision making, which will transform to a better, smarter, more personal experience for the consumers,” he said.

Lack of advertising measurement

Dentsu MENA has helped a retail client move its data to the cloud with a predictive modelling exercise to help the sales team by collecting data from all touchpoints — from the store to an online ad.

The businesses data is much more robust than the advertising data. For instance, digital media consumption data is provided by the digital platforms without any third-party auditing. Similarly, measurability for offline media consumption remains a challenge.

Daouk said that there are initiatives in the pipeline to improve measurability, with plans to launch people meters to measure TV in Saudi Arabia. But for now, he said, “we are getting faster, bigger, more accurate data — marketing data — much faster than what we get on media consumption.”

Decline in advertising spend

The global decline in ad spend in 2020 is forecasted to be around 9 percent, but in the MENA region it has fallen by up to 25 percent.

The obvious reason behind the decline is the pandemic. However, there are other factors at play. The increase in the digitization of business transformation, for instance, has taken budgets away from advertising.

However, according to Daouk, the disparity in the decline of ad spends in the region compared with the global figure began in 2016. Most ad budgets for the MENA region are decided globally and he has noticed a decline over the years in budgets allocated to the region. This could be attributed to a softness in the market that began in 2016, coupled with reduced consumer spending and a high cost of doing business.

Moreover, as other markets such as Asia began growing, they also commanded a higher share of the global ad budget.

“This is why there might be an opportunity for the region now. The role of the region is changing, but we need to bring trust, and trust can only be brought through measurability, governance and data,” he said.