Nothing much, according to this Arab News article reporting on a discussion between American educators and women at Jeddah’s Effat College. As part of a cultural exchange program—the most useful kind—a group of American middle and secondary school teachers were invited to visit Saudi Arabia. They were introduced to the complexity of a society that is trying to identify and keep its important values while adapting to a rapidly changing world. Interesting piece.

‘We’ve the Same Dreams as Women Everywhere’
Hassna’a Mokhtar, Arab News

JEDDAH, 28 November 2007 — Women driving, the hijab, education, Islam and other cultural and religious matters were part of an animated discussion between a group of 25 American educators and Saudi women yesterday at Effat College.

“We want the world to know that we’re not terrorists,” said Maha Juffali, director and supervising trustee of Help Center, a philanthropic non-profit organization dedicated to the welfare of children with mental disabilities. “Women are the same everywhere. We have the same dreams and aspirations for the future.”

Saudi Aramco hosted the group of teachers, specialists and directors from various educational institutions in the US, such as Lansing High School, Western International High School, Rhodes Junior High School and Institute of International Education to name a few. Filled with curiosity, they stated their interest in knowing more about Saudi Arabia to uncover the reality behind many misconceptions and learn about women’s role in Saudi society.

When asked if Saudi Arabia is capable of advancing without being too westernized, Maha Akeel, managing editor of The Journal (issued by the Organization of the Islamic Conference) and a regular Arab News contributor, said: “There’s not a real clash of civilization between development and the Islamic Shariah. It’s all about finding balance without losing your identity. It’s so easy to keep an open mind yet still preserve one’s religious beliefs.”

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