x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Film shows Saudi housing woes

A YouTube sensation in Saudi Arabia explains the country's housing crisis, an Arabic-language columnist explains. Other digest topics today: Palestinians at the UN, Yemen, and Libya.

Short film captures Saudi housing crisis

"Like any Saudi young man, my biggest problem is getting to own a house, considering the ridiculously high property prices," wrote Jamil Al Dhiyabi in a column for the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

Over the past week, there has been a lot of talk in Saudi Arabia about a short film called Monopoly, which puts the kingdom's housing crisis in the spotlight.

Directed by Badr Al Hammoud, an up-and-coming filmmaker, the film is a dark comedy depicting the life of a Saudi man living in a van.

It is rapidly turning into a YouTube sensation, with more than a quarter-million hits until yesterday.

At one point in the film, a character utters a saying many Saudis have repeated before: "May Allah grant us a decent piece of land, on the ground or at sea" - an ironical statement that points to the urgency of the situation, especially among the country's younger generation.

Citing the Saudi economist Essam Al Zamel, the columnist said only 10 per cent of Saudis can afford a home, based on median salary figures.

One of the solutions Mr Al Zamel proposes is for the government to impose a tax on undeveloped land so that land owners will start to sell instead of preserving real estate for extended periods of time, a practice which keeps supply of housing low and prices up.


Libya's prospects are not really that grim

Many western analysts draw a grim picture of what post-Qaddafi Libya may look like, wrote columnist Ghassan Al Azzi in the Sharjah-based paper Al Khaleej.

The four main scenarios western observers fear will happen in Libya are: chaos, "Afghanisation", territorial division and hard-line Islamism, he wrote.

Chaos, the argument goes, may follow if the Libyan National Transitional Council fails to reclaim weapons from the rebels and assign the nation's security management to a legitimate body. "A task that won't necessarily be easy," the writer conceded.

And so long as Col Muammar Qaddafi is at large, Libya will always run the risk of being "Afghanised" by acts of terror carried out by the ousted leader's henchmen, Taliban-style. Note that the Taliban have stalled the establishment of a real Afghan state for years.

Then there's "the spectre of division" which looks all the more ominous considering Libya's broad spectrum of tribal and regional allegiances. This ties in with the possibility of "hard-line Islamists" taking over, since religion is the melting pot of all Libyans.

But this outlook is too pessimistic, the writer said, and may seek to justify a longer Nato presence in the country. Objectively, the rebels and their leaders have shown a decent level of responsibility and civility. This alone calls for optimism - though hiccups are an inevitability.

Yemen's qat does not tempt western powers

The recent rise in the death toll and intensified assaults on opposition figures can mean only that the Saudi-brokered deal between the regime and the opposition in Yemen has collapsed, the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi said editorially.

Clearly, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, still convalescing in Saudi, has no intention of relinquishing the presidency or accepting the GCC initiative.

"President Saleh masters the game of manoeuvring to push his opponents to the brink of despair … but the Yemeni demonstrators have yet to tire," the editorial said.

The killing continues. In the meantime, word on the street is that the neighbouring Saudi kingdom continues to support the regime while the US is attempting to change the façade of the regime but not its structure. What the US cares about first and foremost is that the fight against Al Qaeda continues.

Over the years, Mr Saleh's regime has done many a favour for the US and its allies in the region. These are highly valued services to a country keen on securing the stability of a region that hold two thirds of the world's oil reserves.

As for the people of Yemen, for eight months they have managed to keep their uprising peaceful. They didn't even call for foreign intervention, for they knew beforehand that their calls wouldn't echo with the West; their country's qat is not as alluring as Libyan and Iraqi oil.

Palestinian diplomacy faces daunting test

The countdown to the most important test of Palestinian diplomacy has started, the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan said in its editorial.

The Palestinian Authority faces the battle of all battles, especially when it comes to getting its message across to the world. But the outcome and the repercussions of this move are still unknown.

Israeli diplomacy, with its far-reaching arms, has for decades monopolised political forums and exerted influence in decision-making capitals, leaving Ramallah with the daunting task of dispelling Tel Aviv-made fabrications about the peace process.

Now, however, Palestinian diplomacy is more active than ever before, amid increasing Israeli isolation. If it weren't for the announced US veto at the UN Security Council, Palestine would be well on its way to realising its dream of statehood, backed by more than two-thirds of UN member states.

Should the bid for statehood be vetoed, the Palestinians would have to settle for observer status, like the Vatican. Although the Palestinians have been advised not to hold their hopes too high, it would still be a considerable disappointment. The option of peaceful negotiations has been completely exhausted.


* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk