Manal Al-Sharif (also spelled ‘Al-Sharief’ in some media reports) has been released from detention in Al-Khobar, Arab News reports. She spent 10 days in detention after being arrested for breaking no written law. Publicity on her detention has been extensive in the Saudi media. The report says that she was released through the actions of the police, with no mention of higher-ups requesting or demanding it.

Manal Al-Sharif released

DAMMAM: Alkhobar police on Monday evening ordered the release of Manal Al-Sharif, the 32-year-old Saudi woman arrested on May 21 for driving in Alkhobar, a day after she posted footage on the video-sharing website YouTube showing her behind the wheel.

Speaking through an interpreter, attorney Adnan Al-Saleh told Arab News that Alkhobar police issued her release orders.

Khaled Al-Fakheri of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) confirmed to Arab News later that she was freed from the women’s detention center in Dammam. “Yes, I can confirm, she has been released,” he said.

When she was first arrested by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Alkhobar, she was asked to sign a mandatory paper stating that she would not break the Kingdom’s laws again. She was released but rearrested the next day for violating public order. On Thursday, the authorities extended her detention for 10 days.

Reports of her release were the subject of intense discussion on social media websites. Many Saudis, especially from the burgeoning middle class, seemed delighted at the end of her ordeal.

May:31:2011 - 07:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Why do Saudi girls run away? To paraphrase Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘Let me count the reasons why….’

Both Saudi Gazette and Arab News write on a report released by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice intended to study the phenomenon of runaway girls. The first thing to hit me was that they counted women aged 21-25 as ‘girls’ and that because they are still under the control of their parents, as ‘runaways’. In few parts of the world would these women be included in such a study. Everywhere, except Saudi Arabia, these women would be considered adults fully capable of deciding where they wished to live. A woman this age, anywhere else, can decide that she doesn’t want to live at home. In Said Arabia, though, is a quasi-criminal act for her to leave home, resulting in her being sent to a detention center.

Just over half of the women in the study were between the ages of 16-20. This is an awkward range for doing comparisons with the rest of the world, as in much of Europe, 16 is considered legally mature enough to make important decision like where one lives. In the US, the age varies a bit by state, but generally sets legal maturity at 18 for all purposes.

The study notes that the majority of the runaways, regardless of age, had studied only to the level of intermediate or middle school. That may be simple a result of the population studied; the newspaper accounts do not give a count of the runaways broken down by age. This suggests, if it isn’t a statistical, age-based artifact, that their home lives do not encourage them to study. It’s possible that those home lives keep them from studying, in fact. Indeed, there are Saudis who still believe that women should not be educated beyond basic reading and arithmetic.

I’m certainly willing to admit that delinquency can be a serious problem, even within a closed society such as Saudi Arabia’s. Girls of various ages do commit actual crimes and that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Detention centers can play an important role in containing, and hopefully changing criminal behavior. The incidence of criminal youth is certainly worth studying. By mixing criminal behavior with the acts of young adults seeking independence, however, I think you end up with a very messy sample population, one that cannot be studied to find useful results. That’s not to say this study is useless, not at all… it serves to show that the Commission is right on top of things, at least in its own eyes.

Hai’a study on runaway girls

RIYADH: A report drawn up by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Hai’a) shows that over 51.4 percent of runaway girls in the Kingdom are aged between 16 and 20. 38.5 percent are aged between 21 and 25, the report states.

The report, which was an effort to determine the social causes of girls running away from home, find feasible solutions to prevent it occurring and help the girls back into society, was the result of analyses from instances recorded at girls’ care homes in the four main administrative regions of Riyadh, the Eastern Province, Makkah, and Asir.

The Hai’a noted that 52.3 percent of girls held after running away had gone no further than intermediate school in their education while 36.7 percent had secondary school qualifications.

Haia examines reasons why girls run away

JEDDAH: Most runaway Saudi girls — 51.4 percent — are aged 16 to 20, according to a study conducted by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia).

…According to the study, there are 109 girls in Saudi jails and social-care centers. The study covered 33 sociologists, 53 judges, 140 investigators, 91 teachers, 1,193 secondary students, 256 university students, 101 student guides, 81 police officers and 192 Haia officials.

May:30:2011 - 07:55 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink is a German organization dedicated to dialogue between the Muslim world and the West. Here, it runs an interview with Badriya Al-Bishr, a Saudi author and journalist who lives in the UAE. The interview concerns her novel, Hind and the Soldiers, whose title embraces the controversial female character, Hind bint Utbah, alleged to have been remorseless in her quest for vengeance against those who killed her father, brother, and uncle in an early battle of Islamic supremacy. Her book, according to the interview, addresses issues like love, sex, and sexual assault, topics sure to raise the hackles of a certain strain of conservatives.

Her book, published in Arabic, has been translated into German. I’m unable to find an English translation listed on the Internet, but hope to see one.

”Anything You Write about Is Made a Scandal, Even Love”

In her novel “Hind and the Soldiers”, Saudi author Badriya Al-Bishr focuses the daily struggle of women in her native country for a little more personal freedom. Christoph Dreyer interviewed the Dubai-based writer and columnist

Were you surprised that your book was approved for sale in Saudi Arabia at all?

Badriya Al-Bishr: Yes, that was surprising indeed. But there have been some internal changes since King Abdullah took power, and there was to be a fresh start for a reform movement. So it was decided not to take measures against some prospective books, and mine was one of those that got this chance. On the one hand, of course, that’s good for the book, giving it a larger audience. But on the other hand it also harms the book by exposing it to counter-attacks.

How was the book received by the Saudi public?

Al-Bishr: There were three allegations raised against the book. The first was that it departed from the teachings of Islam because it mentions that my protagonist is reading a novel titled “Christ Re-crucified” (whereas the Koran maintains that Jesus wasn’t crucified in the first place, the editor). The second allegation is that I accuse anyone objecting to my “lecherous desires” of being joyless soldiers. And thirdly, it was claimed that I offended my mother in the novel, because they consider it an autobiography and think the mother mentioned in the book is identical with my real-life mother.

May:29:2011 - 07:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

There sure are some haters in Saudi Arabia.

Tariq Al-Maeena offers a collection of the comments he’s received on the issue of women’s driving. The comments are pretty startling in their fear, misogyny, and spite toward women—even comments by women. Some days, looking forward to the end of the world seems to make sense…

Opinions on the topic of the day

May:28:2011 - 06:43 | Comments & Trackbacks (16) | Permalink

So, the committee charged with accepting or rejecting individuals’ rights to vote in the upcoming Municipal Elections has ruled. Women will not be permitted to vote. They don’t appear to explain their conclusion, or its basis, in this Arab News article, however. What’s more, the committee says its decision is final and unappealable.

And then the article goes on to note that registration numbers for the elections are down. Hmmm… might there be a correlation before our very eyes? No, that couldn’t be.

Poll panel dismisses woman’s complaint

JEDDAH: The Scrutiny Committee for the September municipal elections has refused to accept an objection tabled by a woman complaining that she was prevented from registering to vote, sources close to the committee told Arab News Friday.

The committee did not identify the complainant.

The woman said the prevention was not legal and deprived her of her right to cast her vote. Men under the age of 21 and women are prohibited from voting in the elections for half of the country’s municipal council members. Women are also not allowed to run for municipal council positions.

According to the sources, the woman applied several times to register her name in vain.

The sources said the committee studied the woman’s plea under the elections’ rules and regulations and unanimously decided not to accept her plea. The committee said its decision was final and could not be appealed under Article 38 of the municipal elections charter.

But women can take part in elections for literary club directors! Surely, that’s adequate recompense, no?

Polling boost for women

ABHA: The Ministry of Culture and Information maintained Friday that it has no intention of blocking Saudi women from contesting elections for the boards of directors of the literary clubs.

“There is no intention of the ministry whatsoever to do this,” said Undersecretary for Cultural Affairs Nasser Al-Hijailan said.

He stressed that Culture and Information Minister Abdul Aziz Khoja has confirmed this right of women to run as well as vote for these positions.

May:28:2011 - 06:33 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

There’s something about these new machines from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice that rings a bell… I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’ll come to me.

Anyway, the Haia has gone high-tech, with machines to be placed in various locations like malls. There, at the push of a button, moral guidance! This Arab News article doesn’t say if users have to insert a coin to get their guidance, but I’m assuming not. The Commission is highly subsidized, after all.

Machines give moral tips

RIYADH: The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) has adopted a high-tech method to improve the moral standards of the general public.

The method — Tawasul (interaction) — involves installing a number of electronic devices that deliver audio and video messages containing advice and moral lessons.

“The Tawasul machines are being installed at public squares, markets and selected education establishments in all provinces in the Kingdom,” said Director General of Awareness and Instruction Department at the General Presidency of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Muhammad Al-Eidy in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency.

Oh! I remember now… The image below may be from an earlier model. Or not…

May:28:2011 - 06:20 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Just passing along a press release from the US National Science Foundation on cultural differences. The study looks at ‘tight’ and ‘loose’ cultures, how they got that way, and how they sustain themselves. Interesting, for sure, and I’d like to read the full report.

World-Wide Assessment Determines Differences in Cultures

May:27:2011 - 08:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Arab News‘s Editor-in-Chief Tariq Alhomayed urges that people stop looking at the issue of women’s driving in Saudi Arabia as a political issue. Instead, they should view it as a practical matter with practical solutions. He suggests going to a stepped introduction of women’s driving, with the government setting age restrictions on female drivers to start with, then expand the age group as experience shows the experiment is succeeding. That’s a sort of half-way measure, but in the Saudi context, it’s pretty typical.

Saudi Arabia: Don’t politicize the issue of women driving
Tariq Alhomayed

The famous “scary” story has once again returned to the spotlight, namely the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia. It returns this time under different circumstances, and is being affected by media hype that is dictated by the prevailing conditions in the region, and at a time when some people are simply looking for anything related to Saudi Arabia.

The basic problem is that the debate over women’s right to drive [in Saudi Arabia] has been transformed into a show of force. If women were allowed to drive, this would mean a victory for one trend over another, whilst if they are not allowed, this is evidence of the strength of one trend against the other. This is the wrong way to approach such a subject; confining the issue in this manner makes light of it.

Legally speaking, there is a group of prominent religious scholars who believe women are permitted to drive, and that there are no regulations preventing this. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz previously said that the issue of women driving was a social issue, as did Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz and Second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz. This was something that was also reiterated by Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal, so where is the problem?

Simply speaking, the problem is that the issue of women driving has become a source of psychological dread for all parties, because the issue is being symbolically portrayed as a conflict between different trends, and this is wrong. A definitive decision must be taken over this issue, and it should be viewed as being a natural thing, such as women working as doctors and so on, rather than a victory for one trend over another. However, we must also take into account an important point, namely that the issue of women driving is not something that can be resolved immediately, as if this were the lifting of the emergency law in Egypt or Syria, for example. There are logistical matters to be taken into consideration, from the Traffic Department, to other issues. The problem today is that with the media coverage of events in the region, certain terms are being used excessively or made light of.

May:27:2011 - 07:45 | Comments Off | Permalink

The saga of Manal Al-Sharief continues.

Her arrest in Dammam is being extended by 10 days while the authorities ‘continue to investigate’ her case. At this point, even if she is found not to have violated any laws, she’s being significantly punished. Sitting in a jail, for any length of time, is punishment. If innocent of any crime, it is worse than punishment: it is a grave violation of human rights.

The Arab News article, however, does quote the Deputy Minister of Interior as saying there is a law, a 1990 statement that prohibits women from driving in the Kingdom. (Saudi Gazette identifies the year as 1991/92.) It’s very useful to understand that a ‘statement’ now equals a ‘law’. But does it? Was that statement issued by an authority with the power to make laws under the Saudi governmental system? Or is it just a statement? What other ‘statements’ carry the force of law in Saudi Arabia? Are they published so that everyone can learn what they may or may not legally do? If not, then they’re not law, they’re clubs by which authority can be exerted whenever it’s felt necessary. In other words, they are an back door to tyranny. Saudi Arabs should expect better than that of their government.

Manal Al-Sharif’s detention extended by 10 days

DAMMAM: As her five-year-old son remains hospitalized with a severe infection, imprisoned motorist Manal Al-Sharif learned she will remain behind bars for another 10 days while authorities decide her fate.

Her lawyer, Adnan Al-Saleh, told Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News, that the court ruled Thursday against her release as it continues to probe her drive into Alkhobar and the subsequent online posting of the event on social media websites.

“We believe the best thing for the prosecutor general would have been to release her on bail,” said Al-Saleh. “They told us that the investigating authorities need another 10 days to complete their inquiries. They will then decide whether Al-Sharif is innocent or whether her case should be referred to a special prosecutor,” he said, and explained that such things are in line with the legal formalities. “However, this does not and will not stop us from continuing with our efforts to get her released on bail.”

May:27:2011 - 07:07 | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink

There’s a rule in Western etiquette that goes, ‘Never discuss religion or politics’ at the dinner table. The rule was meant to apply to social engagements, not the family dinner table (which had its own rules), and was intended to avoid discomfiting guests. Dinner tables in Saudi Arabia are coming under some strain, though, particularly in the home.

I think it fair to say that Arabs, in general, are greatly interested in politics. Saudis, as Arabs, are interested. Satellite news programs are always on the TV, often multiple channels at the same time.

But politics is seen as a dangerous thing in the Kingdom, for better or worse. The system of government does not include political parties and is, generally speaking, a patriarchal monarchy, one that tells the people what they’re going to do and think. This is a more-or-less natural extension of the family structure in which the patriarch—be he father or grandfather, older brother or uncle—is the one who lays down the rules. To argue is to disrespect. To disrespect is to threaten the social order.

It’s probably wiser for expat workers to keep their political views to themselves, purely for their own personal safety. It’s a pity, though, that Saudis feel the need to watch what they say—or, more properly—who might be hearing them speak.

And the Egyptian, who thinks his 21-y/o son is too young to have political opinions? Unless he raised his son in a box, there’s no reason why that son’s opinions about Egyptian politics shouldn’t be available to argument. And if he did raise his son in a box, then there’s a far deeper problem at hand.

Parents seek to quell blooming Arab Spring — at the dinner table

JEDDAH: With the Arab Spring blossoming all around, talking politics has reached the Arab dinner table. Over are the times when families avoided discussing the affairs of state. The new generation talks about politics openly and doesn’t shy away from heated discussions.

Interviews in Saudi Arabia show that many families are divided on how to deal with the challenges facing this part of the world.

One camp comprises families that are fine with discussing politics, but only in the privacy of the home. Others try to ban the younger family members from discussing the topic altogether, even going as far as monitoring the youngsters’ e-mail and Facebook accounts, or asking teachers to steer clear of political topics.

Mahmoud Farag, an Egyptian teacher working at a private school in Jeddah, said that discussing the winds of change has very much become part of Arab daily life — but he tries to keep his son from talking about revolution.

“Discussing what has happened in Egypt and what is going on in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is important, I think,” he said. “I would prefer for my son not to talk politics because he is only 21 years old, but, honestly, what do I do? After January 25, we as Egyptians got complete freedom to discuss and criticize, so my son should know what is going on — but he shouldn’t discuss it in public.”

May:26:2011 - 20:27 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Saudi media is preoccupied with the phenomenon (threat?) of women’s driving. Today, we have scattered stories, ranging from Manal Al-Sharief’s withdrawal from the women’s driving protest as she seeks to get out of jail, to an op-ed seeing this movement as ‘Arab Spring Lite’.

This Saudi Gazette story about Manal’s pulling back also reports on a strange allegation carried in the Arabic daily Al-Watan that she was ‘put up to it’ by unnamed women in jail with her. She was in jail before she was detained for driving? If so, that’s a rather important detail to have been neglected. This aspect of the story needs a lot more explaining as from here it looks like an attempt to trash her reputation and to cast the enterprise as the work of ‘foreign agents’, a typical ploy used by cultural conservatives to denigrate anything that suggests change. Manal Al-Sharief denies the allegations.

Al-Sharief to withdraw from driving campaign

DAMMAM: Manal Al-Sharief, the 32-year-old Saudi woman detained for driving a car in Al-Khobar Saturday, intends to withdraw from the campaign for women to drive, a source at the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) said Tuesday. The source said members of the NSHR met with Al-Sharief at Dammam’s Women’s Prison for 90 minutes and described her condition and treatment as “good”.

“Manal wants to be released,” the source said. “She said the investigation had been carried out and that she will withdraw from the campaign calling for women to drive cars.” The source added that the NSHR had contacted the Ministry of Interior requesting Al-Sharief’s release.

Arab News has a peculiar op-ed with a headline that baffles me. What ever does Saudi women’s driving have to do with NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, an American racing institution)? While there are few female drivers in NASCAR, I can’t see how there’s any parallel with women’s driving in Saudi Arabia. Still, the piece makes a few points and provides links to the Facebook and Twitter groups growing around the protests.

Will Saudi women drivers make Nascar nervous?

This could be the most peaceful variant of The Arab Spring we have seen to date. Or it could turn out to be very painful. And very scary.

The big event will take place in Saudi Arabia. There, from June 17 onward, hundreds of women will be — wait for it — driving their own cars. No male family members. No professional drivers. Just women. Driving.

To pull this off without ending up in the slammer, the women came up with an idea: “What if we set a date where any woman around Saudi who has a driver’s license” can go in public and drive? We are hoping to collect as many supporters as we can, if we succeed of collecting 100s in major cities, and all of them start driving June 17 and forward, it will be so much hectic for authorities and it will force them to look at our issue.”

They explained further: “We are not demonstrating or going out in groups. It will be individual act and we asked all brave women who will participate to video tape themselves and post it on our Facebook page for the rest of the world to see and to prove that we can do it and to encourage those who are afraid to take that step.”

A spokesperson for the group — known as “Women 2 Drive” — said, “We tried and tried to get our voice heard, but we have been faced with ignorance, it’s time we simply take an action until they accept sitting with us on the same table… and listen.

Meanwhile, in Buraidah, an archly-conservative city in Qassim province, a woman was detained while driving. After she was hauled off to the local office of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, she had to undergo the ritual humiliation of having her male guardian come in to get her released after she signed an ‘undertaking that she would not drive again.’

Saudi woman caught driving in Qassim

The question still remains, though: If there is no law prohibiting women from driving—and we are constantly assured that there is no such law—then under what law, under what authority are these women being arrested? An Arab News article says that Al-Sharief was arrested for breaking ‘general rules’. What, pray tell, are ‘general rules’? They’re not written, so are they simply understood from birth? Are they uniform across all regions? (Clearly not, as the fact of women driving in Asir makes clear.) Or are they simply an authoritarian club, convenient to use whenever someone with a modicum of power feels threatened?

In its coverage of the story, Asharq Alawsat points out that no one can seem to find either religious or civil laws that prohibit women’s driving. It may take, however, an act of government to codify the law, to put it in black and white.

Saudi Arabia: Arrest of female driver sparks debate

It really is time for the government to clarify the situation. It needs to either write a law proscribing women’s driving or it needs to make it perfectly clear to police, both civil and religious, that these women are within their rights and are not to be prosecuted/persecuted.

May:25:2011 - 07:34 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink

Khalaf Al-Harbi, writing for the Arabic daily Okaz (translated here by Arab News), does an excellent job of exposing the contradictions in Saudi attitudes toward women’s driving. He says, aptly, that Saudi society has been laboring with the cart before the horse for so long that it doesn’t know how to set the situation right. He also correctly points out that any Saudi is free to oppose women’s driving, for whatever reason. He is not free to impose his (or, frankly, her) view on the rest of Saudi society. Too many hypothetical ‘problems’ are thrown up in the face of change in the hope of preventing change. That, he says, has to stop.

The way to stop it is for Saudi women to simply get on with life and ‘do it,’ to quote a Nike tagline.

Let women drive … get over your fear of the unknown

Manal Al-Sharif has been arrested again in the Eastern Province. The charge against her is driving her car. The arrest was easy for police, as she announced her intention in advance as part of the campaign “I will drive my car myself.”

The difficult part is to decide where to send her after the arrest. The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has made it clear that Manal’s act does not fall under its jurisdiction, because she committed a violation of the law. On the other hand, the police stand is that Manal has not committed any security violation, but only a traffic violation, which obviously falls under the authority of the traffic department. However, our traffic department is confused about the issue, as it never handled a woman violator in the past.

Shoura Councilor Najeeb Al-Zamil has summed up the issue of women’s driving as an issue of our own creation with its origin in a fear of the unknown, compounded by hypothetical situations in the event of permitting women to drive. As a result, the Saudi society is left bewildered and unable to see a way out.

Saudi Gazette, meanwhile, points out that Saudi women are already driving—unopposed by their neighbors and supported by the male members of their families—in Asir as well as in central Saudi Arabia. Life necessitates that they drive. They can’t afford to hire drivers and there are too many compelling reasons for them to take matters into their own, skillful hands. If they had to wait for men to do everything for them, things just wouldn’t get done.

Women behind the wheel in remote Asir areas

ABHA: Women in the east of Asir region have developed driving skills over time in their peaceful remote area, where they drive almost ever day with no harassment.

It was a simple need to drive that motivated them to learn how to do so, not a desire to defy social norms and traffic laws, they said.

The needs of their families would at times compel them to drive beyond the countryside areas, either for shopping at town malls or getting treatment at hospitals, they said.

Rafah Al-Qahtani, a mother of eight, said she had to learn how to drive after her husband’s death and inherited the car from him.

She said she never felt discriminated against or alienated for being behind the wheel.

“Now I can go shopping on my own, trade at the animal stock market and take my kids wherever they need to go,” she said.

“I do what men can do now.”

Al-Qahtani said that if she did not learn how to drive, she would have been begging men for favors.

I think this is exactly the solution to the conundrum. Don’t take part in organized demonstrations or protests as that runs afoul of other laws. Because the government cannot decide, in all its elements, whether there’s a law forbidding women’s driving, then individually push the issue. Make the government and religious authorities back up their actions, in public and in court. And keep pointing to how law is being applied unequally in different parts of the country. This, I think, is the only way to put an end to this ridiculous bit of Saudi history.

May:24:2011 - 10:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink
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