Hugging, apparently, is an ‘exotic practice’ in Saudi Arabia. A practice that can get one arrested, if done in public and with unrelated people. Al Arabiya TV reports that three men were arrested in Riyadh and Madinah by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice for offering free hugs to passersby, as part of the international Free Hugs Campaign.
Given Saudi social mores, I can’t say I’m surprised….
boy was arrested in Saudi Arabia on Friday after taking part in the “Free Hugs” campaign that has seen some Saudi men take to the streets to offer up a hug to passers-by.
Arrested in the city of Madina, the boy, who was identified as a minor by the police, was holding a banner inscribed with the slogan “Free hugs” and was allegedly offering hugs to people near a local hospital.
Police told Al-Hayat daily newspaper that another man promoting the campaign evaded arrest.
Also, two men were arrested in Riyadh on Thursday for offering free hugs to passers-by in the capital.
Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice arrested the two men in Riyadh for violating local laws and engaging in “exotic practices,” al-Hayat newspaper reported. They were asked to sign a pledge that they would not partake in the campaign again, according to the newspaper.
Among the petty annoyances found in Saudi offices is the level of multitasking that goes on. It’s not bad if it’s all job-related, but too often it seems that it’s for the benefit (and sometimes profit) of the official rather than his clients whose issues he is handling. Two or three people who have nothing to do with the matter at hand are hanging around conversing; one or more TVs are running in the background; one or many cellphones are in constant use by the official.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that the Saudi government has now banned the use of cellphones in the Passport Offices. This should bring a little more focus to the work that is supposed to be done, but we’ll have to wait and see about that. We’ll have to see, too, whether this new practice is spread across other government offices or even the private sector.
Jawazat staff banned from using mobile phones in office
Hanadi Abbas | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH – Director General of Passports Maj. Gen. Suleiman Al-Yahya has banned the staff from using mobile phones during office hours.
Al-Yahya, who took over as the chief of the General Directorate of Passports last week, told Okaz/Saudi Gazette on Wednesday that the performance of Passports Department employees will be monitored through surveillance cameras.
He also said that the working hours of the Passports Department will be extended up to 5.30 p.m. for employees who deal directly with citizens and expatriates so as to clear the transactions that were submitted during the grace period.
The passport offices will have more employees to deal with huge crowds of visitors, he said, and reiterated that passport offices seek to ensure that expatriates’ rights are maintained so they can visit hospitals, government bodies, courts and other government departments.
Saudi Arabia leads the world in terms of YouTube viewership. But Saudis aren’t just consuming YouTube videos. Al Arabiya TV runs this Reuters report on how young Saudis are creating content to fill the void created by state-operated media (void because no one watches it for other than Saudi sports and religious inspiration).
Saudis live in a severely constrained social environment. As a result, many youths are living a ‘virtual’ life on the Internet where they are able to say and see things that are otherwise not available to them. Rather than waiting for governmentally shaped commentary, they make their own and get immediate feedback, both positive and negative.
Young Saudis getting creative on YouTube
Turn on a Saudi television and you’ll usually get a diet of religious programming and uncontroversial imported fare. But there’s much more to a “night in” for the average Saudi – they’re also the world’s most avid watchers of YouTube.
The programs of Jeddah-based UTURN, from drama to reality shows, are typical. “3al6ayer,” or “On the Fly,” is a Saudi version of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” “Eysh Elly” is a lighthearted weekly review of Arab online videos.
As of mid-September, UTURN had 286 million views on YouTube and 8 million followers on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, most of them Saudis, said Abdullah Mando, 27, who set up the company in 2010 with two university friends.
The secret of UTURN’s success is simple, but in a Saudi context, rather revolutionary: give the audience what it wants
Marc Lynch, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University has a good piece in Foreign Policy magazine.
In it he notes the cynical, political use to which sectarian differences are used as a matter of identify politics rather than actual, theological differences. It’s worth a read.
The thrust of his piece is about the often-contrived conflict between Sunni and Shi’a populations. He mentions the tensions between Muslims and Christian Copts in Egypt. He might have expanded it to include the visceral, but unfounded hatred of Jews. Or, for that matter, the sense of some American fundamentalist Christians that Islam is the problem.
The Entrepreneurs of Cynical Sectarianism
A group of Syrian-Americans arrived at an academic conference at Lehigh University last week in Bashar al-Assad T-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad’s face. They repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers, and one told an opposition figure that he deserved a bullet in the head. When a speaker showed a slide picturing dead Syrian children, they burst into loud applause. When another speaker cynically predicted that Bashar would win a 2014 presidential vote, they cheered. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room.
This spectacle might seem notable in that it unfolded at an American university, but otherwise it would pass for an alarmingly normal day at the office in today’s toxically polarized Middle East. Such intense mutual hostility, irreconcilable narratives, and public denunciations are typical of any number of highly polarized political arenas across the region. A similar scene between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s military coup is all too easily imagined — just add bullets. That’s why the disproportionate focus on sectarian conflict as the defining feature of the emerging Middle East seems dangerously misplaced. Sunni-Shiite tensions are only one manifestation of how a number of deeper trends have come together in recent years to give frightening new power to identity politics writ large.
Asharq Alawsat runs an interview with Denise Spellberg, author of the new book Thomas Jefferson’s Quran: Islam and the Founders. The book takes a look at how the founders of the American republic viewed Islam and how those views colored the writing of the US Constitution and state laws.
The author notes that 18th C. Americans generally shared the negative attitudes of their European contemporaries, but that exception men were far-seeing in certain regards, though seemingly blind in others.
The book certainly looks interesting.
Islam at the Birth of America
Mohammad Ali Salih
Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Denise A. Spellberg is an American scholar of Islamic history. She is an associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas and holds a PhD from Columbia University. She is also the author of Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past, which looks at the portrayal of Aisha in Islamic tradition.
Spellberg is perhaps best known in the media for the controversy that surrounded the Sherry Jones novel, The Jewel of Medina. Spellberg sharply criticized the novel from a historical perspective, informing publisher Random House that the book might result in violence by radical Muslims.
In her latest book, she looks at the impact that Islam, in particular a copy of the Qur’an owned by Thomas Jefferson, had on the birth of the US Constitution and the concept of religious freedom during the infancy of the United States of America.
Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders is published by Knopf Publishing Group and was released in October 2013.
Even in a country as tradition-bound as Saudi Arabia, change happens.
Turky Al-Dakheel, writing for the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh (here translated by Saudi Gazette), records several instances in which things that were once seen as too new, too modern, too likely to cause social discord have been incorporated — even embraced — by their erstwhile critics.
Schools, schools for girls, radio, TV, satellite TV, even social media were once excoriated as imported occasions of sin. Not only were people upset by them, but people died protesting (and protecting) the innovations.
As much as one might wish it, cultures and societies do not remain static. Change is inevitable. The only question, really, is how that change is managed.
Society and forbidding
Turky Al-Dakheel | Al-Riyadh
A long time ago, news about banning satellite dishes was the debate of the season. Satellite dishes caused a social crisis at that time. Many flyers that explain the danger of satellite dishes were distributed. They linked satellite dishes with immorality. A Number of extremists bought guns to fire at satellite dishes installed on rooftops. There were many cases in cities around the Kingdom where satellite dishes were fired. If you browse the Internet and search using the words danger of satellite dishes, you will observe the unnecessary fear we used to live in. Nowadays, those who were warning people on the threat of satellite dishes have their own private channels.
Those who do not own channels have a special program on an Islamic satellite channel, or in a Lebanese channel that talks about fashion and music. All of the sudden, the intimidation from these satellite channels vanished. After we got used to satellite channels, another crisis appeared. Mobile phones and Bluetooth were the new debate. Many people were warned from carrying mobile phones with cameras and Bluetooth. People used to set up checkpoints to search for mobile phones with cameras. Nowadays, some Imams are reading their Friday sermon from their iPad’s, other use special Quran applications to lead worshipers in Tarweeh prayer. All of the sudden, the threat of mobile phones with cameras is gone and is now socially accepted.
Two years ago, Hamza Kashgari took to social media with a series of injudicious twits. He recognized that what he said about Islam might be taken the wrong way and put him in jeopardy with not only religious authorities, but the government as well. He fled the country to Malaysia, but the government there sent him back to Saudi Arabia, where he was tried.
Now, Saudi Gazette reports, he has been released from prison.
Two years in prison, however, is seen as too weak a punishment by some Saudis. They are still calling for his execution for blasphemy, or, at least, a longer jail term.
Blogger Kashgari released
Laura Bashraheel | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Saudi authorities released on Tuesday a blogger who was detained for almost two years for allegedly making blasphemous comments on Twitter. Hamza Kashgari, 24, was arrested over the series of tweets in February 2012.
At 8 a.m., one of Kashgari’s close friends tweeted: “Hamza Kashgari is at his home now; he spent one year and nine months in loneliness and being attacked by people who know nothing about him, and at 6.30 a.m. he was released and went home.”
Close friends and family of Kashgari also confirmed on Twitter that he was released in the morning.
The same day Kashgari reactivated his Twitter account and wrote only one tweet: “Mornings of hope and the souls that does not die, thanks to Allah”. He received more than a thousand retweets within only a few hours while people congratulated him on his release and return to family.
However, his release was received with negative reactions, with others still calling for him to be punished and even executed.
An interesting article in Saudi Gazette. The writer, Somayya Jabarti, interviews three Saudi women who drive, not as part of some campaign, but as a matter of daily life. The women note that it is a matter of necessity for them to drive, not a political statement. Not all Saudis can afford to hire expat drivers. Even with a driver, a family’s needs can go far beyond what one mortal being can accomplish. The women are not out there ‘looking for action’, but to meet the daily requirements of their families.
‘Let all of us put our faith and confidence in Allah and drive’
Somayya Jabarti | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — The Saudi Twittersphere was abuzz yesterday, the climactic moment of the October 26th women’s driving campaign, but offline the city streets’ tempo was almost like any other Saturday morning — business as usual. Almost.
While there was one uploaded video on YouTube of a Saudi woman openly driving in Riyadh yesterday, other women here stated they were on the streets and behind the wheel on this day like any other day.
Three of these women spoke to and shared proof of their driving with Saudi Gazette on the condition that their names are withheld in response to the wishes of their families and spouses. Their aim for coming forward was to serve the cause and only the cause: that women are able and keen to drive in the Kingdom.
On the issue of women’s driving, one group has come up with a reason why they should not: taxi drivers. They see, correctly, that if women are permitted to drive, the demand for taxis will fall precipitously. That reason, however, is not sufficient. Life does not guarantee anyone the job he wants. The income of several thousand taxi drivers does not balance the needs of millions of Saudi women.
Agence France Presse, in addition to Saudi media, are all reporting that Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior is slamming on the brakes when it comes to the activities planned today to support the right of Saudi women to drive in the Kingdom. The Ministry, it is reported, has even called individual activists to warn them that the full weight of the law will be applied to them.
Which raises an interesting question… Which law? There are no actual laws on the books that prohibit women from driving. Religious authorities say there is no Quranic prohibition. So just which law is it that women drivers would be violating? The Ministry comes up with vague statements about ‘causing social discord’. If that were a law universally applied in Saudi Arabia, the country would be paralyzed.
Saudi Arabia was braced for possible protests Saturday after women activists declared an “open driving campaign” against the deeply conservative kingdom’s ban on women behind the wheel.
Activists had originally planned a “drive-in” Saturday but cancelled it after threats of legal action, instead declaring an open-ended campaign in the only country that forbids women from driving.
“Out of caution and respect for the interior ministry’s warnings… we are asking women not to drive tomorrow and to change the initiative from an October 26 campaign to an open driving campaign,” activist Najla al-Hariri told AFP Friday.
Several women said they had received telephone calls from the ministry, which warned of measures against activists who chose to participate and asked them to promise not to drive on Saturday.
“It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate in support” of this cause, ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told AFP
CNN International is reporting that some women are choosing to ignore the Ministry’s admonitions:
UPDATE: The New York Times reports that some Saudi women went ahead with their protest, getting behind the wheel and driving. Some also made videos of it. No arrests or detentions are reported.
UPDATE: According to Al-Jazeera TV (via Yahoo.com’s Maktoob portal), some 60 women across the country took part in the effort. It reports there were no arrests made.
The legal case of Homaidan al-Turki is once again before the courts. According to the linked Denver, CO news site, the government of Saudi Arabia is seeking his repatriation to the Kingdom where, it is promised, he will serve the remainder of his sentence for “the unlawful sexual contact by use of force, theft, and extortion” of a domestic servant while he was a graduate student in Colorado.
Homaidan and his many supporters Saudi Arabia argue that he is the victim of a political plot to punish Saudis for the events of 9/11. The jury, however, disagreed, finding personal responsibility on his part.
If he is repatriated, it’s unlikely that he would serve a 28-year sentence, never mind a life-term. Abuse of domestic servants, while a crime in Saudi Arabia, is rarely punished and never terribly severely. This will be a factor in the court’s decision-making.
Saudi Arabia is seeking the release of Homaidan al-Turki, a Saudi national who is serving a Colorado prison sentence for sexually assaulting a housekeeper whom he kept as a virtual slave in his home.
Security was increased Thursday for a hearing that was held for al-Turki at an Arapahoe County Courthouse. According to a report by 7News, snipers could be seen on the roof of the building and there was an added security checkpoint directly outside of the courtroom.
Fahed Al-Rawaf of the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. appeared in the courtroom to ask the court to allow al-Turki to complete his sentence at home.
Al-Turki was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 28 years to life for committing unlawful sexual contact by use of force, theft and extortion. He has maintained his innocence and has argued that the case was politically motivated and stems from anti-Muslim sentiment following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Agence France Presse reports that the women’s driving campaign, which calls for Saudi women to drive in the Kingdom on the 26th of every month until women are granted drivers licenses is on. Despite the Shoura Council’s resisting a call for debate on the issue that was issued by several of its new female members, Saudi women intend to take to the streets, behind the wheel, on Saturday. According to the report, some women are testing the waters already by driving around. So far, there’s been no official reaction, but a modicum of popular support.
But, as also noted, some Saudi women don’t like the idea at all.
Saudi female activists are gearing up to test a long-standing driving ban, with more defiant women already getting behind the wheel as the authorities seem to be taking a more lenient approach.
Under the slogan “women’s driving is a choice,” they have called on social networks for a turn-out on Saturday in a campaign in the world’s only country that bans women from driving.
“October 26 is a day on which women in Saudi Arabia will say they are serious about driving and that this matter must be resolved,” said Manal al-Sharif, who was arrested and held for nine days in May 2011 for posting online a video of herself behind the wheel.
In a protest she led the following month, a number of women were stopped by police and forced to sign a pledge not to drive again.
The 34-year-old computer engineer who now lives in Dubai told AFP women have already begun responding to the call, and “more than 50 videos showing women currently driving” have been posted online during the past two weeks.
With the exception of two women who were briefly stopped by police, authorities have so far not intervened to halt any of the female motorists.
Arab News reports that the Saudi Ministry of Interior — the organization that oversees police and security within the country — is warning women to not get involved in the campaign. Despite the fact that there is no law that prohibits women from driving, despite the fact that Saudi clerics and even the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice acknowledge that there’s no Quranic ban, the Ministry warns that were women to drive, it would be ‘seditious’. Uncomfortable for some, perhaps, but seditious? Really? Perhaps that word doesn’t mean what the spokesman thinks it means.
A story in Arab News reminds us that not all Saudi women are keen on driving. Activists in the anti-driving camp are taking to social media to make their point that allowing women to drive in the Kingdom has its downsides, deficits so big that women’s driving should continue to be banned.
The reasons for keeping the ban seem weak to me — ‘dividing the family’, ‘facilitating male crime’, ‘altering the proper role of women’ — but they’re apparently important to at least some women in Saudi Arabia. How these problems square up with the problems that result from the ban — increased number of foreign laborers, increased expenses imposed upon families, reduced opportunities for women to work — is clearly a question the Saudis will have to resolve for themselves.
Activists oppose women getting behind the wheel
JEDDAH: FOUZIA KHAN
In a move aimed at countering the request of three female members of Shoura Council seeking driving rights for women, several women activists in the Kingdom have drafted a letter to be submitted to the Royal Diwan listing out several points on why women should not be allowed to drive in the Kingdom.
Justifying their action, the activists, who have sent copies of the letter to the interior minister and Shoura Council chairman, said that women driving was not only a violation of the Kingdom’s public order and scholars’ fatwas, but would also impact the social fabric, family values, religious sentiments and even security.
Seeking rejection of the request for women driving and ban on campaigns to drum up support, the activists pointed out that what the middle-class families needed was public transport system.
Using cyberspace to make her point, awareness activist Rawdah Yousef said from the social perspective, it would be a disastrous move since it would mean women moving away from families if granted permission to drive. The letter will be signed by prominent activists from various fields, she said.