Thursday, August 20, 2020

Neom: The Futuristic town coming up in the Arabian desert

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Representative image for a futuristic city | Source: vectorpocket via Freepik

Ever since Mohammed bin Salman, popularly known as MBS, became the crown prince of Saudi Arabia in 2017 at a young age of 32 year, he has been working on twin objectives of liberalising the conservative laws of the country and diversifying its oil based economy.

In the last 2 to 3 years Saudi Arabia has done away with religious enforcers, allowed women to drive, loosened the strict clothing norms for women, reopened the cinema and other entertainment events by scaling down many of its ultra conservative rules and regulation.

File:Mohammad bin Salman (2018-06-14) 01.jpg
Mohammad Bin Salman | Source: Russian Presidential Executive Office via Wikimedia

On the economy front, MBS has started many projects to lessen the dependence on oil, of which Neom is the centerpiece. NEOM is a technologically advanced mega-city being built from scratch in the sands at the coast of the Red Sea and is considered to be the dream project of MBS. This magnificent city, will take about $500 billion to complete and be thirty three times the size of New York City. This project will make the country a technology hub, attract international tourists, and will reduce Saudi Arabian economy’s over-dependence on oil.

Neom will boost some of the features which are today seen only in some sci-fi movies. It will employ cloud seeding technology to bring rain in the desert town, display an artificial moon, and use flying taxis for intra city travel. The town will have some functional autonomy which include relaxed laws for women and tourists.

Three of the biggest consultancy firms of the world, Boston Consulting, Oliver Wyman and McKinsey & Co, were roped in by MBS in 2017, to bring his vision of Neom to life. “This is a challenge. The dream is easy but making it come true is very difficult” MBS said.

While the entire project is slated to be completed in 2025, the international airport is already constructed at Neom. Phase-1 of the project was supposed to be completed in 2020, however it was delayed due to the oil price crash and COVID-19 pandemic. “All of these projects will be delayed. It's not paused; it's continuing more slowly” said Ali Shihabi, a Washington-based analyst on the Neom advisory board.

Abdul-Rahim Al-Huwaiti, protestor who was shot dead | Source: MENA Rights

Saudi Arabia has done a wonderful job of letting the imaginations run wild to come up with an idea and start implementation, there are few downsides as well. The area where Neom is being built is home to the Huwaitat tribe who have to relocate elsewhere for the construction to take place. While most of the tribe members agreed to move on, few were not willing to do so. Abdul-Rahim Al-Huwaiti was one such member who actively resisted and criticized the government in videos posted on youtube. He was unfortunately shot dead by the government forces during an operation to clear his house in April, 2020 giving a blot to this wonderful project.

There are still some obstacles in the ‘perfect’ project of modernising Saudi Arabia. “The main project risk probably is the potential lack of large private investors. The local and international private sector will want to hear a lot more detail than what has been published to date” said Steffen Hertog, a leading scholar on Saudi Arabia, pointing out that a lot of clarifications and work is still required.

There is still time before this magnificent town rises to its full glory on the coast of the red sea in Arabian desert. We are eagerly waiting to see the flawless execution of a grand vision of Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohannad bin Salman in the form of the modern marvel, Neom.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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