Hopeful and hopeless: Vox pop reveals mixed feelings about post-lockdown life in Saudi Arabia

A file photo shows a busiest road in Riyadh completely empty. (SPA)
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Updated 31 May 2020

Hopeful and hopeless: Vox pop reveals mixed feelings about post-lockdown life in Saudi Arabia

  • Saudi Arabia began easing curfew restrictions on May 26
  • Workers expect drastic changes in coming months

JEDDAH: COVID-19 has turned the world inside out and upside down, leaving people confused and feeling lost. With the end of the lockdown in sight most of us will return to our daily routines, but with a greater level of uncertainty about the future.

On May 26 Saudi Arabia announced the easing of restrictions that had previously halted all social and economic activity across the country for more than two months. Domestic flights are due to resume on May 31, movement within cities and across city limits will be allowed and businesses are to reopen again gradually before a June 21 deadline when a nationwide curfew will be lifted.

The gradual easing of the curfew and the new rules surrounding it are subject to constant evaluation, as well as being subject to change if the situation warrants it.

Arab News carried out a vox pop to find out how people felt about the uncertainty of the current situation, if they felt hopeful that the coronavirus pandemic would end soon, if life would go back to normal, or if they felt hopeless and discouraged due to the uncertainty that comes with the crisis and having to adjust to a “new normal.”

A questionnaire was distributed among 90 people from different age groups. Participants were asked a series of questions that focused on how they felt about the next stages of post-lockdown life.

It is a difficult time and, though many of the people Arab News spoke to understand the measures put in place, their level of awareness has risen since the beginning of the pandemic. Throughout the lockdown Saudi authorities maintained a level of transparency to reassure the community and provide them with more answers than questions. Yet one question remains: What is going to happen next?

The majority of survey participants - 43.3 percent - were between the ages of 25 and 34, 31.1 percent were aged between 18 and 24 while 10 percent were 35 to 44 years old. Those between the age of 45 and 54 made up 8.9 percent of the group, and 3.3 percent were above the age of 55 and below the age of 18.

Employees, who made up 35.6 percent of the survey’s participants, felt that drastic changes would take place in the coming months that could affect their job performance and possibly their incomes.

Fowzan Hashmi, a private sector worker, was among those who said he felt hopeless due to the repercussions of the pandemic. He said he felt as if there was no end in sight. “Nothing seems (as if it will) go back to normal anytime soon. Higher costs of living. No salaries being paid. Life is getting difficult and people are not cautious enough.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi Arabia began easing curfew restrictions on May 26.

• Workers expect drastic changes in coming months.

• People want everybody to continue taking precautions.

Life coach Nora Alrifai was more hopeful, however, and stressed that the pandemic presented a vital opportunity. “If we are not learning from the past then we are missing our future,” she said. “If humanity and primitive societies survived fatal epidemics throughout the years, so will we with our much higher awareness and evolution in different aspects of life. I won't say that I am not worried or concerned, but I am keeping my hopes up.”

Shared responsibility

Life will not be the same for many people. Residents cooperating with the government and adhering to the policies put in place understand that, even with the curfew’s relaxation, everyone should continue taking precautionary measures.

Amani, a public sector employee, said that things would not be the same anymore, that people would be more aware and cautious when interacting with crowds and businesses that thrived via large numbers of people might suffer the most.

“I think after some time, people will have developed a stronger immunity to the virus, and its spread won’t leave as high an impact on the community as it is now,” she said.

Most people who took part in the survey believed that the situation would end with people around the world developing immunity to the virus, while others said that they were waiting for a vaccine. The majority of participants looked at the possibility that lives would change after the virus.

Kausar said: “The end will mark the beginning of something new. Life and work may change for good,” but she believed that there would be change for the better.

Areej was pessimistic because of the depressing news about selfish people flouting the rules. “I really hope that they find the vaccine soon so we can go back to our normal lives.”

Maha, a private sector employee, said that this period was temporary. “It will take time indeed and hopefully they will find a vaccine, but the virus won’t fade away and might linger.”

Rasha Khan said that this crisis would only end once people started taking precautions.

Many of the participants who were discouraged about the future were from a younger age group, yet most people in the survey shared the same sentiments about rule-breakers and were vocal in their disdain for them.

Munira Al-Mutairi, who was in the 45 to 54 age group, said: “I trust nature to balance itself out, some people will die and some people will learn some hard lessons.”

Coronavirus disease cases continue being recorded in the Kingdom, and the pandemic has shown us how fragile and unpredictable our lives are. The majority of people - 84.4 percent - were optimistic about things to come. With the ease in restrictions a shift in thinking and working is inevitable, but it will take time to adjust to post-lockdown life.

 


Saudi woman runs a seamless op to meet military demands

In the future, Al-Mutairi aims to build partnerships with global companies to develop the field. (Supplied)
Updated 19 September 2020

Saudi woman runs a seamless op to meet military demands

  • Turfah Al-Mutairi’s factory creates cutting-edge uniforms, and she hopes to expand beyond the Kingdom

RIYADH: Turfah bint Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi is the first Saudi woman to obtain a license from the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) for a military outfit factory.

The owner of Sondos Al-Dibaj factory, Al-Mutairi has a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering and started working in the field after graduating. She is now specialized in military equipment, including clothing that can protect against weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons, as well as fire-resistant clothing.
“My company is among the first five companies to get licensed in the field of military industries by GAMI,” Al-Mutairi told Arab News.
She said her factory works with international companies specialized in localizing production of military equipment.
These include a French company with which she has signed an agreement as a Saudi-French investment specializing in military uniforms. The clothing is designed to meet the needs of the Saudi military in the field.
“I started my career in design and textile as this was my major. Fashion and design depend on the concept more than on quantity,” she said. “There are industries, however, that depend on quantity, and this is found in the military sectors.”
She said her approach to working for the military sector was founded on two beliefs. The first is that, being a strategic sector, and from a security and political point of view, the industry should be local and domestic, and localizing it leads to self-sufficiency, Al-Mutairi said.
“The second reason is that my goal since graduation has been to be part of a cycle that seeks to create jobs for women. Textiles is one of the businesses in which women innovate, and opening production lines for this field has been my goal for over 20 years,” she added.
She has worked on the project since the establishment of her first factory 12 years ago, and she was among the first to demand the domestic production of military clothing.

Turfah bint Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi

The idea of localizing military industries had yet to be discussed when she first started her factory. Many of Al-Mutairi’s relatives work in the military field, which made her aware of the needs of the industry.

FASTFACTS

• The owner of Sondos Al-Dibaj factory, Al-Mutairi has a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering and started working in the field after graduating.

• She is specialized in military equipment, including clothing that can protect against WMDs, biological weapons, as well as fire-resistant clothing.

“I rang the bell at the AFED-2016 exhibition, which targeted the field of spare parts, not individual equipment. I spoke to Maj. Gen. Attia Al-Malki, head of the exhibition, and he was very understanding of my idea, so I took part in the exhibition,” she said, adding: “Here comes the importance of having an official who understands the requirements of the stage and has the flexibility that enables him to make a decision.”
The exhibition also gave Al-Mutairi the opportunity to work with international companies such as BAE Systems, which specializes in aircraft production. “I discussed with them their needs, and we began to fulfill their special requirements and supply them with spare parts for military aircraft, such as engine covers, and we have started to develop our capabilities to cover their delicate product requirements,” she added.
Al-Mutairi said that spare parts are also a type of textile with unique specifications, which can demonstrate the ability of manufacturers.
“Experience begins with a small part and extends to include other parts. We have thankfully passed the stages of installation and reached the stages of creativity and innovation,” she said. For centuries, Al-Mutairi said, fabric and textile production has been women’s work, adding that military uniforms have special requirements that must help soldiers navigate in the field and surrounding terrain.
“We therefore take into account the military requirements in terms of design and material, and this is what we are trying to develop. We had experience in designing the uniforms for the staff of the National Center for Security Operations (911). Maj. Gen. Abdulrahman Al-Saleh, the center’s director, supported us, and the uniform was approved by the Ministry of Interior,” she said.
Her factory also took part in designing Public Security uniform. Al-Mutairi said there are some similarities between the military uniforms of Saudi armed forces and those of other countries. The most common uniform is the No. 4 camouflage, which is worn during deployment.
“They are meant to look like the surrounding area, whether it is a desert or a mountain. These are thought-out patterns, and developments are continuously made by following the latest technologies in textile engineering and color combinations,” she said. “The process of changing them takes a long time and requires decisions by the military sector.” With the comprehensive change in the Saudi economy, cutting-edge systems are encouraging investment, especially in the military industry, she said.
The country goal to localize 50 percent of the military industry. Regulations by GAMI, new systems, and employing purchasing and negotiating powers will help manufacturers achieve the ambitious target, she said.
She added that military technology has valued customers, and it is guaranteed that the products will be bought if they are of high quality.
Al-Mutairi said it is an excellent investment opportunity for Saudis and foreign investors in particular, given that the Kingdom ranks fourth globally in military expenditure, “and you can imagine that 50 percent of this huge spending goes to local factories.”
She said that despite strong competition locally, her factory alone cannot cover market demands, and that the Kingdom needs more competition in the military sector.
“It also needs to localize, train and financially support talent, in addition to developing systems, such as a procurement system. We have also seen recent reforms such as arbitration in corporate cases, and this has become clear and fast, which encourages investment,” she added.
Al-Mutairi said another step that made things easier for industry investment was the development in completing government transactions, which have moved online. “These procedures in the Kingdom only take a few minutes and the response is received electronically.”
In the future, Al-Mutairi aims to build partnerships with international companies to develop the field, quoting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said: “The sky is the limit.”
She has had meetings with Chinese and Greek industrial companies, and said she will work with any company that wishes to enter the Saudi market.
While the military industry always relies on patents, Al-Mutairi said it is an advanced stage in the field, and her factory is working toward that goal and focusing on it. But patents only come after mastering a skill, establishing work and starting it, she added.
Military uniforms resistant to weapons of mass destruction are unique to Al-Mutairi’s factory, as it is the only one in the Kingdom and the Gulf region to produce the clothing.
She added that the Sondos Paul Boye Company — a Saudi-French partnership — is the only company in the world to produce the uniform in two internationally known methods. “The first of which is using cellular textile, produced globally by one company, while the second uses spherical textile, produced by another specialized company.” Sondos Paul Boye also manufactures fire-resistant uniforms.
Al-Mutairi said her company is also looking to export uniforms soon.
She employs 170 workers in her factory, while there will be 213 new employees as part of a new expansion.
Many of the workers are women, she added, “because Saudi women by all means have taken over the foreign workers’ department as they complete their work very quickly and demand more tasks.”
This, she said, has added pressure on other workers to keep up with the speed and achievements of the 49 Saudi women working on the factory production line.