hamburgers and leadership
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 25, 2008
When I was reading for my oral exams, I also needed books that could take my mind slightly away from my exam subjects. So I ended up reading a lot of wonderful (and some not-so-wonderful) novels and memoirs relating in some way to the Middle East.
One of my absolute favorites was a rather hard-to-find 1960s novel about Khaleej college students in Cairo in the late 1950s, An Apartment Called Freedom (in Arabic I believe it is simply Shiqat al-Hurriyah). It follows the adventures of four young men, Sunni and Shia, wealthy and poor, who respond in different ways to the political and cultural freedom that Cairo offered.
Its a great book, and a terrific read – but its hard to find, and quite pricey. (Check out Amazon’s listing and you’ll understand what I mean – although there is a used copy available for $8.)
Anyway. My oral exams took place some time ago, and I haven’t thought much about Algosaibi since. I knew that he was a bit of a Renaissance man, and that he had done a stint in government service, and I knew that this was odd because his novels and poems were banned in Saudi Arabia – a case of love the sinner, hate the sin? But he had largely faded from my day-to-day consciousness.
This morning I read a curious little Reuters news article, and I knew it was the same man. Here’s the article:
RIYADH (Reuters Life!) – Saudi Arabia’s Labor Minister found a novel way of encouraging Saudis to take jobs they think are beneath them — by working as a waiter for three hours in a fast-food restaurant, newspapers reported on Tuesday.
Saudi media carried pictures of Ghazi Algosaibi, champion of the policy of “Saudisation” of the workforce, surprising customers in a popular restaurant in the city of Jeddah by serving up hamburgers in overalls and a cap.
“The beginning will always be tiring and difficult, but young people can realize their ambitions if they are persistent and work hard,” al-Watan reported Algosaibi as saying before kissing a Saudi worker on the head in appreciation.
Algosaibi, a poet and former ambassador to London, has fought an uphill battle against business and religious interests to attract more Saudis, including women, into employment.
Around a third of Saudi Arabia’s population of some 25 million are foreigners. The government is trying to diversify the economy away from reliance on oil receipts.
Many Saudis including graduates hope for work in the government bureaucracy and shun many menial jobs done by the large expatriate labor force.
Way to go, Minister Algosaibi! What a great role model – pitching in to show that there is nothing demeaning about honest work. This story reads a bit like a “news of the weird” piece – but I hope that readers recognize the value of Algosaibi’s “message”.
If you’re curious to know more about the poet-cum-minister, here’s what the Bahraini website Jihat al-Shi`r has to say about Algosaibi:
Saudi Arabian poet. Born in al-lhsa'(1940) in Eastern Saudi Arabia into a well to do and influential family, he had his early education in Bahrain, then obtained a B.A. in law from the University of Cairo in 1961. In 1964, he obtained an M.A. in international relations from the University of Southern California, and in 1970 obtained a Ph.D. in political science from the University of London. He had held important positions in his country’s government, becoming the Minister of Industry and Electricity (1976-1983), then Minister of Health (1983-1985). At present, he is Saudi Arabian ambassador to Bahrain. Dr. Gosaibi is widely read in literature, religious studies, and history and has been very active as poet, anthologist, and writer. He has at least twelve books in print, including Verses of Love (1975), You Are My Riyadb (1976), Fever (198o), and his lovely collection, Chosen Poems (198o). Despite his formal status, Gosaibi’s poetry, written with clear language and an eloquent style, reveals a deep involvement in Arab life and political experience, and reflects great love for simple beauty, innocence, and uncomplicated human relations in contrast to the pomp and flourish of the high life around him.