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Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Industrial City of Jubail

Jubail and Yanbu 

RCJY LogoUnder King Abdullah, two industrial cities have been completed: Jubail, on the Arabia Gulf (which is, in some circles, the Persian Gulf, but I won't be posting an opinion on this discrepancy) and Yanbu, on the Red Sea north of Jeddah.  The cities are administered by the Saudi government under the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, which we visited for a day during our time in Khobar.  Jubail and Yanbu were built from a central plan, unlike the natural urbanization of villages and towns that usually forms a city.  They are indeed cities in every sense, to include housing, education, transportation, and recreation infrastructure and venues for the benefit of the people working in one of the many industries present.  Jubail has many factories and plants, plus a college and vocational school, a desalination plant, and a seaport.  Yanbu is more specialized, with a port, refineries, and petro-based industries.  The government offered incentives for companies to begin producing in Jubail and Yanbu, setting up the 70% government-owned Saudi Arabian Base Industries Corporation(SABIC).  SABIC organized companies that utilize natural gas as their "feedstock," dominating the non-oil industries.

The city of Jubail has both industrial and residential infrastructure.  Though not included on our tour, King Fahd port is the area that makes much of the trade to and from Jubail possible.  The industrial region is divided into heavy and light industry zones.  There is also a massive area dedicated to the community of Jubail to include shopping, dining, and recreation areas, and residents have a variety of living options to choose from in Jubail.  Some residential areas are owned by the industrial companies operating in Jubail for employee housing, another incentive from the Saudi government for companies to set up shop there.
Jubail community.  Photo from
The community of Jubail is open, with the potential to attract people from other areas as the need for housing spreads outside of Jubail's current limits.  However, the actual industrial areas have not been structured the same way.  The industrial site has a development potential of 35,000 to 75,000 hectares.  Industrial sites are organized into blocks based on type of industry, so that secondary industries might be separate from primary and feedstock industries.  The newly developing petrochemical industries are located in a new sector, called Jubail II.  These petrochemical facilities rely on the byproducts from Saudi Aramco.

What stuck out to me as the most relevant development from the Royal Commission is the construction of an East-West natural gas and oil pipeline running from Jubail to Yanbu, avoiding the Strait of Hormuz between the UAE, Oman, and Iran.  The Strait has the potential to be closed by Iran (this ability was tested by the US armed forces in the 2002 Millennium Challenge) and has produced recent disputes in 2008 and 2011-12 between Iran and the US, a major ally to Saudi industry.

Our visit to Jubail

Us and some fellas from the Royal Commission 

Our first reception
Our visit was well planned and impressive, but it was awash in propaganda.  We were greeted by a group of stoic, thobed men who led us to a large boardroom, where we heard a formal introduction, watched an incredibly long and dramatic documentary on the city, and drank tons of Arabic coffee, as per usual.

Tour of the visitor's center
I have no idea what's happening here
We were then taken on a tour of their visitor's center which included mostly information on Jubail's stages of development, interesting facts about infrastructure, and a lengthy discourse on all the awards the planners had won.  We then got into a bus for a long tour of the community and then the industrial areas.   Entering the areas where the highest caliber of refining and industry occurred was a minor ordeal.  The areas are heavily guarded, and it took much planning on our hosts' parts to get a busload of Americans on the premises.  Pictures are not allowed in these areas, so I included a few from the web.

A worker at a 2010 project.  The entire city was built by immigrants. Photo from 
I honestly have no idea what I'm looking at here. Photo again from
Jubail refinery. Photo from

Jubail desalination plant. Photo from 
We concluded our tour at another reception at the "tent," a building styled to look like a Bedouin camp but swarming with Filipino servants.  We removed our shoes, entered, and got some more coffee while meeting with some professors and higher-ups from the college in Jubail.  We then ate a huge lunch and returned to the tent for pictures and to receive the gifts that I mentioned in the "Hospitality" post.
The "tent"
Looking cheesy while being thanked for coming to Jubail.  Please, no comments on my disheveled hijab. It was a long day.
Through out the tour, we truly asked far fewer questions than at other locations.  Maybe we were too tired, or maybe we were just confident that questions would be met with generic, undoubtedly positive, answers.

In short, What bothered me as a Feminist

In a post on our trip to Jubail, I just can't ignore the couple of comments and things that really irked us Americans.  I personally wasn't too susceptible to culture shock and adapted pretty well to Saudi society on this trip, but these things made even me roll my eyes and produce a few sarcastic thoughts--even if they never developed into the snarky comments they so wanted to be.  The three things that bothered me as a Feminist are as follows:

I.) "Everyone can swim!"
While driving past a pristine beach in the community of Jubail, one of my group asked if outsiders, like non-Jubail employees, could use the beach and its facilities.  Our PR man tour guide responded, "Yes! Everyone can swim!" To which we were amazed.  Every other place we visited had major restrictions on women at the beach, we clarified, asking if he meant women too.  He replied that of course not, only the males could go to the beach.  A moment later, we saw a large sign on the beach prohibiting children from entering the water.

Males 15 years or older make up 39.1% of Saudi Arabia's population, so, you know, everyone.  (Statistic from

II.) "If women work beside men, they'll get pregnant." I'm paraphrasing here, but it's pretty accurate
When we questioned our tour guide about the policies in place for women in the work force in Jubail, the guide explained that there were gender segregated work areas in all sectors except the zone where the industries with the highest safety risks were located.  We did not ask much more, because we already knew Jubail's policies from our earlier briefing.  However, probably upon seeing that the whole concept of gender segregation bothered us, he elaborated, explaining that, if women were to work in the same place as men, there would be romances, and of course, pregnancies.  When we either scoffed or laughed at this comment, he continued to explain that Jubail's policies were not in place to protect the man or woman in these relations, but the children who could be raised without knowing their fathers and with ostracized mothers.  Men and women are thought to have very little control over their sexual urges.  I am hoping that this generation of Saudi females who are studying in America and Europe in mixed settings will return to the Kingdom remarkably unpregnant and shatter a few of these misconceptions.

III.) The Shannon Slap
How one would typically respond to a setting where mixed gender contact is not allowed. Photo from a pretty cool blog on Indonesian culture,
As many who are familiar with Islamic culture know, many people interpret physical contact between unmarried/unrelated men and women as sinful, or "haram" in Arabic.  For this reason, in formal meetings, some men or women will cross their hands and nod out of respect, but not shake the hand of someone of the opposite gender.  At Jubail, as we moved through introductions to Commission members and faculty of the college in Jubail, a few of the men were obviously avoiding touching the females--which, I should add, offended no one because it is a religious observance that we understand.  One of the girls on our trip who is very well versed on Islamic culture herself, Shannon, instinctively reached out to shake an Algerian's hand (usually North Africans are less observant to mixed gender rules than Saudis), not seeing that his posture indicated that he didn't want to touch her.  Most Muslims, I believe, would explain that they could not touch a woman or simply back away and nod, as I've seen many do.  This man, however, slapped her hand away.  I'm no Muslim scholar, but from experience I understand that slapping requires contact.  Why this man thought that slapping a woman was less disrespectful than shaking her hand will be the first question I have for the first imam I get to talk to me.  I'll just be sure that when I do so, I keep my distance.

I took few notes while at Jubail, so a few of the earlier production and facilities-related facts came from the following sites:

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Troy, AL, United States
I am a Political Science student at Troy University in southeastern Alabama. I have been given fantastic opportunities to travel to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among other brief trips, to study and glimpse other cultures. I believe there is much to be learned about other people while studying, and I want to share my experiences with you.