Role for Women in New Shoura?
By Sabria S. Jawhar — The Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH: IN a groundbreaking decision, Saudi Arabia is taking another step in the path of reform by introducing new draft laws that if approved would give a voice to the voiceless in the Shoura Council.

With the beginning of the Shoura Council s fourth term, members are working to finalize issues related to laws and regulations that govern the country s policies, while increasing the possibility of including women in the coming phase as officially appointed consultants.

The coming phase has lot of ambition, said Mansour Abdul Ghaffar, a member of the Shoura Council. It would witness great decisions and more authorities and privileges for the Council.

Laws like a full-fledged civil aviation department to regulate air transportation and regulations to monitor purchasing and firearm laws are being finalized, said Muhmood Taiba, a member of the Shoura Council.

However, a source who asked for anonymity, said that focus is placed on enlisting what might be considered as a major boost in the Council s present agenda. Approving a new law for establishing civil society organizations is to come soon, he added.

The law will focus mainly on procedures and conditions required for the establishment of civil society organizations also known as non-governmental human rights organizations other than charity ones, said a source who asked not to be named.

The source said that this law would facilitate establishing NGOs as they have become a necessity for reform and introducing democracy in the country. A union for authors is also under discussion.

According to this Saudi Gazette article, important new legislation is being prepared for the Shoura Council to propose to the government. Among them is the inclusion of women in the Council itself. It’s not clear that this particular piece of law would or could be prepared in time for the next shuffling of the Council, though. Read the whole article: there’s a lot going on, and in directions that pro-democracy reformers would like.

March:31:2005 - 21:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Emancipating a Nation
Lubna Hussain,

I had a series of rather thought-provoking interviews and meetings last week that left me feeling somewhat encouraged and tentatively hopeful. It seems that my country is finally waking up to the fact that there are women within its borders. A rude awakening no doubt, but one that has far-reaching implications for all of us.

When the outside world thinks of Saudi women there are two images that appear to characterize all of us without exclusion or exception. We are veiled and we don’t drive. I have always found such a stereotype exasperating in its superficial interpretation of our worth. I trudged through scores of articles printed in the international press whilst engaged in research pertaining to the elections and practically every single one of them referred to Saudi women as being “the only women in the region who are not allowed to drive” and that “they are forced to wear the veil”. It really is disconcerting to think that we are defined by only two factors among a myriad of complications that are never alluded to. But what is it that Saudi women really want? Has anyone bothered to ask us what our vision is and how we conceptualize its implementation?

Here’s a good piece that you should read if you’re concerned about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi women really do dislike outsiders telling them what they’re supposed to be, how they’re supposed to behave, what they’re supposed to want. Lubna Hussein, a Saudi woman, puts down on paper what it is she thinks Saudi women want and need. You might be surprised.

March:31:2005 - 21:11 | Comments Off | Permalink

A Puritan Republic: America’s Closeness to Islamic Ideals
Manuel L. Quezon III,

GILBERT Chesterton once quipped that, “A puritan is a person who pours righteous indignation into the wrong things”. I was reminded of this due to the national convulsion in America over the fate of Terri Schiavo. She collapsed in 1990 from cardiac arrest and suffered brain damage because of lack of oxygen, and has been in the center of a decade-long legal tug-of-war between her husband and guardian, Michael, and her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, over whether or not to end life support and let her die.

This is a very good op-ed from the Arab News. The writer–who is unknown to me–makes an interesting comparison between the US and Saudi Arabia, taking as his focus how the matter of Terri Schiavo is being played out.

Certainly worth reading and pondering.

March:30:2005 - 21:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

Education Changes Tested in Pilot Program
Lulwa Shalhoub, Arab News

JEDDAH, 31 March 2005 — Usually, educational systems test students through examinations, but important revisions in the Kingdom’s educational system are being tested in a pilot program that education officials will be examining closely. If it proves to be successful, it likely will chart the Kingdom’s course for educational reform in the 21st century.

The newly developed educational system with curricula and grading changes is being tested at select secondary schools across the Kingdom. With a university-style approach, it may better prepare Saudi youth for college success. It has teachers and administrators excited and many students hoping to take part if the program expands.

This is a good article from Arab News, detailing some of the changes to the Saudi education system that are being explored.

While content has been a major concern of many Americans–as well as Saudis–the pedagogic method itself is also critical. The changes may not seem like a big deal to those who already use a similar system, but they’re a major change for Saudi Arabia, where rote memorization has been the standard until now.

This, though, is just one experiment; the changes are not permanent, nor are they universal. The Saudis are trying several different approaches to find one that works best. I hope they can consider the possibility of have several different systems running concurrently. Competition among methodologies has its own value.

March:30:2005 - 21:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

We Can Do It and We Will
Khaled Almaeena,

In Algiers last week I met a foreign correspondent who asked me, “Why?” To which I replied: Why what?

“Why does the Arab world lag behind almost every part of the world except of course sub-Saharan Africa?”

Good question, I thought. The man was reasonable. I have met him several times in the past. His question, however, did make me think. The total GDP of the Arab world is about $500 billion. This amount is less than that of Spain that was until recently one of the poorest European economies.

“What is wrong with the Arab world?”

Here’s an excellent op-ed from the Editor-in-Chief of the Arab News, Khaled Al-Maeena. I suggest you read the whole thing.

I think he correctly identifies many of the aspects that make up the current malaise that runs through the Arab world. Having identified the problems, the next step is to try and fix them, not just put a bandage on them or offer pain-killing pallative relief. This is a long-term effort though, that will need to be addressed over the coming months and years. At least it’s a start.

March:28:2005 - 22:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

An Open Letter to the Minister of Education
Saad B. Al-Matrafi,

Mr. Minister, I am beginning to think that some of your officials enjoy destroying any bright idea that might pop into the minds of our younger generation. Minds that produce bright ideas could well lead to a more aware and intelligent generation that is the very thing that gives us hope for the future of the country. With this in mind, I was deeply shocked to learn that your ministry had punished an entire school, including all its staff and students, because of an educational trip they made to the offices of Arab News in Jeddah.

This is quite a story! As a result of a school trip to the newspaper’s offices, a scabrous item appears on the internet. Someone in the Ministry of Education see it, then acts to punish the school, the teachers, and the students.

This letter, from an Arab News journalist, calls on the Minister to look into the case and set it right. The story, as relayed, is another example, I believe, of lower level bureaucrats going far beyond what the law or regulations permit and substituting their own preferences about what the law “should” be.

I expect that this will be cleared up pretty quickly. The new Minister is going to have to show where he stands and how he treats this case will do exactly that.

March:28:2005 - 22:01 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Case The Saudis Can’t Make
By Faiza Saleh Ambah

Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page B01

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia

It’s hard not to be intoxicated by the breeze of democracy wafting across the Middle East. An Arabian Spring, analysts call it, heralded by round-the-clock demonstrations in Lebanon, suffragists out on the streets in Kuwait, rare protests in Egypt, voting in Iraq and reform even here in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where limited municipal elections are being held this year. But just as I’m about to get carried away by the spirit of hope, my mind stops, does a U-turn and returns to three men — two academics and a poet — who’ve been behind bars in Saudi Arabia for a year. Their case, and not the ballot box, has become my barometer for real change in the kingdom.

Along with their lawyer, these men have forced a groundbreaking case onto the Saudi legal system, the power of which lies in its simplicity. They want the implementation of the rule of law in practice and not just in theory. Their tenacity could cost them their lives. But they take the risk because they know that without the rule of law this so-called Arabian Spring will prove to be as illusory as a desert mirage.

This is an excellent op-ed appearing in today’s Washington Post, written by a Saudi journalists who normally reports for The Christian Science Monitor. She puts the trial of three activists challenging the Saudi implementation of the rule of law–or the lack thereof–as the benchmark by which Saudi liberalization should be measured.

She makes a good case and you should read this article.

I do disagree with her, though, that this is the be-all and end-all of Saudi reform. It is certainly one important measure, but the other steps being taken count, too.

The process of Saudi reforms is like trying to rebuild a house without first leveling the existing one. No one, not Saudis, not Americans, wants to see the house pulled down. The real world doesn’t permit the total clearing of the site in order to begin anew. Iinstead, structures need to be repaired from within. It can be done, but it’s harder, and more dangerous.

If one pulls out all the “rotten wood” of a particular issue, then a lot of the fabric of the house is no longer supported, or supporting the rest of the structure. Some of it can be removed easily and promptly, but removing other parts will depend on other bits of structure, not identifiable as “rule of law”, need to be addressed first, or at least simultaneously. To simply address one factor and pull out the bad parts, risks collapsing major parts of the entire houdr. Things need to be shored up, at least temporarily, while other parts are replaced.

To move back from the analogy, the issue of rule of law is certainly fundamental. But it’s not the onlypart of the foundation that needs repair. As Ms. Ambah notes in her piece, matters like the interaction of the police and the women wishing to attend their husbands’ trial come into play. The police cannot deal–for better or worse–with women as they do men. The role of the media is another factor. While some reporting of the case has been going on, the majority of the media do not see this as newsworthy. Getting them to recognize the importance of the issue, both for themselves as the media and for the country at large, is another important part of the foundation.

I am not saying that reform is impossible, nor that it needs to be slowed, nor even that it will take its own time. Reform is necessary and achievable, I believe, but it will not be easy. While it’s clear that the Saudi response is going beyond merely putting a fresh coat of paint on a troubled house, they do need to continue their reforms and with all deliberate speed… But they also need to proceed with some caution. Pulling the house down on their heads is not going to achive the reforms even the reformers want.

But Ms. Ambah does make a compelling case. Read the article before it disappears behind the Post’s by-payment-only firewall.

March:27:2005 - 11:29 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Writers Heave a Sigh of Relief
Raid Qusti,

It is the second victory in the past five years for Saudi writers and the Saudi media in general. In a fair, bold and honorable decision by Crown Prince Abdullah, the sentence imposed on Saudi writer Dr. Hamza Al-Mizeini was annulled. Besides putting the writer in jail for four months, Al-Mizeini’s sentence would have banned him from writing in the media and given him two hundred lashes. The crown prince, however, set aside the sentence handed down by the judge in the Shariah Court on the grounds that it ran counter to a royal decree which directs that all matters concerning publications or the media must be dealt with through the Ministry of Information. As Dr. Al-Mizeini himself said, had it not been for the royal decree, “Harm would have come to many Saudi writers and intellectuals.”

The always readable Raid Qusti has come up with an other excellent op-ed. Here, speaking as a Saudi journalist, he talks about freedom of the press as it currently exists in the country, as well as where he thinks it should be. He sees movement toward his goals, but not fast enough. A good piece worth the few minutes it takes to read it all.

March:26:2005 - 19:33 | Comments Off | Permalink

Miyati Torture: Justice Must Be Done
Roger Harrison, Arab News

JEDDAH, 27 March 2005 — In the interests of equity and the integrity of its position on human rights, it is time for the Saudi authorities to address with the utmost vigor the continued abuse of domestic workers in the Kingdom.

It happens; there are published cases and they cannot be hidden under a cloak of secrecy any longer as the gruesome photographic evidence of the tortured — no other word comes close — still living body of Nour Miyati recently pictured in this newspaper shows. The picture and the story brought shudders of disgust to, and expressions of sympathy from, civilized people.

Bound so tightly that gangrene developed in her limbs and beaten to the extent that her teeth were knocked out, the 25-year-old maid was locked in a bathroom for a month. Now she will probably lose her fingers and toes and possibly half of one foot. What sort of money or punishment can possibly compensate her?

This is an excellent op-ed from one of the Arab News editors. There’s certainly no secret that abuse of domestic servants has been and continues to be a problem in Saudi Arabia. It absolutely needs to be cleaned up. This piece explores the scope of the problem and offers some suggests to solve it. A good piece about an important issue.

March:26:2005 - 19:29 | Comments Off | Permalink

Losing Battle for Islamists
Amir Taheri

Where do we go from here? This is the question that Islamist groups are posing these days in the murky space they inhabit on the margins of reality. It is asked in mosques controlled by radicals, touched upon in articles published by fellow-travelers, and debated in the chat-rooms of websites operated by militant groups.

Leaving aside the usual suggestions to hijack a few more passenger jets or to poison the drinking water of big cities in the West or to blow up this or that monument in Western capitals, the movement appears to have run out of ideas. It may even be passing through its deepest crisis of imagination since the 9/11 attacks against the United States.

There are several reasons for this.

As expected, Amir Taheri comes up with another to-the-point op-ed. While what he says is intrinsically interesting, the real importance here is that this article is running in an extremely influential Saudi paper. That says something very loud and clear about how Saudi attitudes toward exceptionally narrow interpretations of Islam are being discussed and challenged.

March:26:2005 - 19:19 | Comments Off | Permalink

Panel Set Up to Deal With Complaints Against MediaP.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News

JEDDAH, 26 March 2005 — A four-member committee has been set up to look into complaints lodged by individuals as well as officials of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice against the mass media.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Jasser, undersecretary for media affairs at the Ministry of Information, will chair the committee, Al-Madinah Arabic newspaper reported yesterday quoting informed sources.

The move came after the government decided to withdraw all cases related to the press from courts and transferred them to the Culture and Information Ministry in accordance with the new Press and Publications Law.

An interesting follow-up to an earlier article noting that this would happen. This could be a good thing, if it truly serves to buffer irrational complaint or too-thin-skins from interfering with journalism. If, though, it’s only moving it to another office, then it’s not so great.

I suspect, though, that by moving it to an office that has at least some accountability to the public it is, in fact, a step in the right direction.

March:25:2005 - 23:42 | Comments Off | Permalink

Ministry Should Concentrate on Culture, Not Banning Books
Dr. Mohammed T. Al-Rasheed,

ALONG with the new name, the indomitable Ministry of Information, MOI, has now a new minister. Personally, I have decided not to use the new title, which includes the sonorous term ‘Culture,’ until the ministry actually produces something that merits such high-flying terminology.

The new minister, Iyad Madani, is a journalist, an ex-editor in chief, and an accomplished writer. He was also the Minister of Haj before this current appointment. His credentials are impressive.

One of my favorite Saudi commentators, Dr. Al-Rasheed, has this excellent piece today. Not only does he point out that the process is incredibly unfair and largly stupid, but also notes that the desired end is simply impossible to achieve. He recommends that Saudi Arabia, as an increasing number of Arabs states are doing, should simply abolish the Ministry of Information. A good read.

March:23:2005 - 20:59 | Comments Off | Permalink
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