Nasser Al-Qassabi, who made a name for himself with the notorious TV satire program “Tash Ma Tash,” is back this Ramadan with a new, one-man show, “Selfie.” He’s not only drawing heat from Saudi imams, as reported below, but he’s put himself in the crosshairs of ISIS/Daesh and its supporters.
Writing at Arab News, Abdulateef Al-Mulhim says that if nothing else, he’s drawing Daesh-supporters out of the woodwork as they take to Twitter and other social media to lambast him… and threaten his life.
Nasser Al-Qassabi Exposing Daesh in his own way
During the holy month of Ramadan, the time for breaking the fast (Iftar) is not only considered a meal but it is the time when all members of a family sit together to enjoy these special moments.
Saudis have developed a new habit during the past two decades i.e. watching television together at Iftar time. This has become a prime time during which various television channels, mostly Arabic of course in this part of the world, compete to attract as many viewers as they could. The time of the last prayer of the day i.e. Isha starts two hours after the Maghrib prayer. These two hours are filled with tens of programs catering to the needs of different segments of society. One man who creates waves and makes millions smile needs a special mention. His program Tash Ma Tash is widely watched in the Arab world.
This show in Ramadan has become Saudi Arabia’s televised stand-up comedy show. The show had featured many actors but the two main characters were Nasser Al-Qassabi and Alsadhan. This year, a new show called Selfie, has been launched featuring only actor and comedian Nasser Al-Qassabi.
In another Arab News piece, Al-Qassabi is reported to be taking the threats on his life with a certain equanimity, putting his fate in the hands of God. He is also receiving words of support, from Saudis and others, for showing that those who preach religion can be and often must be distinguished from religion itself.
Al Arabiya TV reports that the attitudes of Saudis about terrorism have changed over the past ten years. In the past, excuses would be sought to explain extremist acts; extenuating circumstances would be found to somehow make those acts reasonable. Now, the article (and accompanying video) say, there’s no tolerance for it. Even families are turning their young, extremist members to the authorities.
Saudi views shifting on Islamic extremism
Shounaz Meky | Al Arabiya News
More voices are making themselves heard in Saudi Arabia, expressing their rejection of terrorism and violence by extremist groups in the name of Islam, Al Arabiya News Channel reported.
The report notes how Saudi perceptions of extremist groups has changed over the last 10 years.
Saudis rushed to denounce two recent suicide attacks against Shiite mosques in the kingdom that killed at least 25 people.
However, when there were terror attacks in 2003 and 2005, the report said Saudis were much more inclined to justify terrorism and sympathize with extremist groups than they are now.
Another piece on the same webpage points to social media as a facilitator of extremist thought. While the article extols government efforts to contain it, it also calls for coordinated international action, on the parts of government but also by social media companies, to rein it in.
And here, even though Al Arabiya glosses over it, the time-worn argument rises: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Having excused terrorism in the past because the supposed goals of the terrorist were acceptable, governments in the region are now faced with dealing with the terrorist methodology when the goals aren’t quite so in line with government policies. Not having a First Amendment as does the US, the Saudi government approach ignores the fact that differences in opinion are always going to exist. It’s not the opinions that matter most when it comes to terrorism, but the means through which people seek to call them into reality.
While there’s talk of permitting Saudi women to travel abroad without “guardians,” there are more basic hurdles that need to be met. Saudi women have to first get passports. That’s not always easy.
Saudi Gazette reports on a Saudi female activist pointing out the dysfunction that obtains when a Saudi woman must obtain permission from a court to even get a passport where her son doesn’t face the same barrier. She notes (as have many others) the way Saudi culture and law seem to keep women infantalized, never permitting them to become responsible for their own actions. This, she also points out, is in contrast to how other countries, even similar, neighboring countries treat their women.
Activist slams court letter rule for women’s passport
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — A human rights activist has strongly criticized the complications put before Saudi women to obtain their own passports without the consent of their male guardians.
Suhaila Zain Al-Abdeen, member of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), was responding to recent statements by the Director General of Passports (Jawazat) Maj. Gen. Solaiman Al-Yahya, who said Saudi women would be allowed to have their own passports issued for them if they show a letter from a court.
“Why does the issuance of a woman’s passports depend on a letter from the court?” Al-Abdeen told Ain Al-Yaum electronic newspaper, Saudi Gazette’s sister publication.
She said a letter from the court might take time to process even though the traveler might have a family emergency to tend to.
“Why is a young man under 20 not asked for the consent of his male guardian or to bring a letter from the court when he wants to obtain a passport while his own biological mother may need a letter from the court if she wishes to have a passport? “Is it a case of trusting the young man while we deny this right to the woman who gave birth to him?”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unhappy with the complaints of various governments and NGOs over the Saudi Supreme Court’s confirmation of the sentence given to dissident Raif Badawi. It sees it all as carping interference with internal Saudi affairs and points to the independence of the judiciary, Saudi Gazette reports.
People, organizations, and country governments are, however, free to make their opinions known. Much of the world’s opinion is that the sentence (not to mention the “crime”) is not in line with basic human rights and is excessive, even if you grant that some law was substantively broken.
Badawi case: Ministry slams outside meddling
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH – An official source in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday condemned statements issued by some countries and international organizations involving Saudi citizen Raif Badawi.
These statements are unilateral as no statement has been issued about him by the judiciary or any official authority in the state, the Saudi Press Agency quoted him as saying.
The source added that the judiciary in Saudi Arabia is independent and the Kingdom does not accept interference in its judiciary or its internal affairs by any party.
The criminal court sentenced Badawi to 1,000 lashes, 50 to be administered “very harshly,” in public, once a week for 20 weeks. In addition, he is to serve 10 years in prison and pay a fine of 1 million riyals.
Last year, Badawi was found guilty of insulting Islamic values, “promoting liberal thought” and “going beyond the realm of obedience” by suggesting the Kingdom should become more democratic.
The Saudi government is facing a conundrum when dealing with temporary marriages (Nikah Misyar, for Sunni Muslims). While there are multiple fatwas authorizing such marriages as permitted under Shariah law, it is against Saudi Arabia’s public policy. The government acts to discourage it — as with this article from Saudi Gazette — but appears to be unable or unwilling to directly counter religious statements. Whether moral suasion overcomes biological drives and convenience, with a religious blessing, will be an interesting thing to watch.
Grappling with the surge in temporary marriages
Saudi Gazette report
THE Saudi Charitable Society for the Welfare of Saudi Families Abroad (Awaser) has warned Saudi citizens against engaging in any temporary marriage contracts abroad.
Speaking to Al-Riyadh newspaper, Tawfiq Abdulaziz Al-Suwailem, chairman of the board of directors, said the society works with the ministries of social affairs and foreign affairs as well as Saudi missions abroad to crack down on Saudis who enter temporary marriages.
“There should be legislation and extensive media coverage of such marriages arranged by brokers outside the country. Saudi men should realize the consequences of these marriages.
Unfortunately, over the past 10 years, these types of marriages have spread and are out of control. They have been called tourist, summer and common-law marriages and they all have one common thing: they’re temporary and the disengagement ends with a divorce,” Al-Suwailem said.
In many conservative Muslim states, men do not talk to women other than their relatives. They may not even shake hands with them. Foreign male diplomats are taught to wait to see if a woman extends her hand for a shake before extending their own. Female diplomats are taught to not even bother if the interlocutor is male.
Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh in which the writer — a Saudi woman — points out to the patent unfairness and illegality of the way government officials (and others) refuse to deal directly with women, insisting that only males enter their offices (or office buildings). Some refuse to speak with women even on the phone. Or how some doctors will speak only to males in discussing medical concerns of patients… even if the woman is the patient.
It’s truly a backward approach to life and one the Saudis are going to have to come to terms with if they’re not going to continue leaving themselves open to complaints and criticisms like those made by the Swedish Foreign Minister.
‘Sorry, I don’t talk to women’
Dr. Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi | Al-Riyadh
I added the word “sorry” to the title of this article even though government officials do not normally bother to use this word. I have previously written regarding how women are not allowed to enter government buildings and are forced to stand outside on the street. I now intend to discuss how government officials treat women once they manage to enter government offices.
I know of a woman who went to a hospital with her husband. The hospital’s management subsequently asked her to leave because women are not allowed to stay the night with their husbands. Only male family members can do so. This woman asked the consultant to keep her posted on her husband’s health. He, however, refused to speak to her in person or over the phone, and said he would only talk with male family members. He insisted on dealing with her like this even though what he was doing was against the rights of patients.
Another example is that of a mother who called her son’s school to ask how well he was doing. The teacher refused to talk to her and said he would only to talk to the child’s father. What if this woman were widowed or divorced?
Addressing the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Saudi government says it sees no reason to abolish the death penalty. The government claims that death sentences are reserved for only the most severe crimes and sentences must go through three levels of court approval before they’re implemented.
In reporting on the Saudi Press Agency story on the issue, Saudi Gazette makes no specific mention of Quranically-mandated death sentences. Nor does it address those “crimes” which most modern nations no longer acknowledge, such as “black magic” or apostasy.
Saudi Arabia rebuffs calls to abolish the death penalty
Saudi Gazette report
GENEVA – Saudi Arabia reiterated on Wednesday its commitment to hold fast to the Shariah principles in all walks of life especially in applying the law for death penalty, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Rebuffing calls for lifting the death penalty, Bandar Al-Aiban, president of the Human Rights Commission, said the Kingdom cannot forget the rights of the victims encroached by criminals while listening to calls for abrogation of capital punishment.
Al-Aiban made the remarks while addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“The Kingdom is keen to protect the rights of both the offenders and the victims. This is the underlying spirit while carrying out the penalty for criminals convicted of murder,” he said, while drawing attention to the fact that there are several other countries that apply the death penalty.
For its part, Arab News reports similarly, pointing out that Saudi law is a sovereign right accorded to all nations:
The Washington Post runs an article from the Associated Press, under a somewhat exaggerated headline, noting that the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna is coming in for criticism.
The critics want the Center to condemn Saudi human rights abuses which include capital punishment, flogging, and jailing Saudi critics. Supporters say that Austria, Spain, the Vatican and others were well aware of the status of human and religious rights in Saudi Arabia before they signed on to support the Center. What’s more, human rights aren’t exactly the issue the Center was formed to address. It was set up to provide a venue where people of different religions could meet and discuss issues of religion as well as to create value by demonstrating that they could do that without calling each other pagans and apostates.
VIENNA — Austria was enthusiastic when Saudi Arabia said it was ready to bankroll a center for religious and cultural understanding in Vienna — but two years after its launch, the desert kingdom’s foray into promoting a more open society abroad while continuing to repress rights at home is in tatters.
Its vice president, a former Austrian justice minister, has quit over comments interpreted as downplaying Saudi beheadings. And the center’s silence over the flogging of a Saudi blogger for criticizing Islam has drawn weekly street protests and condemnation from Austria’s chancellor — who said the nation “will not tolerate” the center’s refusal to repudiate Saudi human rights violations.
“I believe that the center needs to be done away with,” said demonstrator Norbert Brandl outside the turn of the century downtown palace housing KAICIID — the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue. “Either that or it has to speak up against these unbelievable incidents.”
The religious establishment in Saudi Arabia is very averse to foreign holidays, particularly those that might carry any religious significance. As a result, they rail against “imported” and “un-Islamic” celebrations ranging from Valentine’s Day to Halloween and Christmas, and even birthday celebrations. These foreign influences, they believe, introduce shirk or some sort of polytheism into an Islamically pure society.
Saudi merchants, however, aren’t quite so convinced (nor are large segments of the general population). Saudi Gazette reports on how merchants work to avoid the bans on selling holiday-related goods.
‘Forbidden occasions’ a chance to boost sales
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — Most retail stores, including gold shops, are waiting for what they call “forbidden occasions”, or celebrations that cannot be observed in the Kingdom.
These events start with the recent Valentine’s Day this month and end with Mother’s Day at the end of March and are often seen as crucial to helping markets recover from the annual quiet period of sales that starts after the end of Haj.
Some businessmen doubt sales will increase because the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice bans such celebrations and tour the markets to ensure that they are not selling related merchandise, but others see a significant increase in sales that could reach up to 100 percent compared to the previous four months, Al-Madina reported.
Saif Ali, manager of a gold shop in Jeddah, said the forbidden occasions starts on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, and most businessmen see them as an opportunity to increase sales by up to twice as normal.
Faisal Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, has a good editorial today. In it, he writes about the appearance of a Saudi “historian” on Rotana Khalijjiya TV, in which he stated that Saudi Arabia shouldn’t let women drive because it exposes them to rape. It won’t do to emulate other countries because they don’t care if their women get raped. The female presenter met this assertion with the laughter it deserved.
Laughter and mockery are good, Abbas says, but not enough. There needs to be strong push-back, on the air and in other media to counter absurd assertions, as there was following that of a Saudi cleric who said that driving would damage women’s ovaries. I agree, but I also think the mockery should continue. Saudi Arabia has a long history of using mockery as a weapon and it is an effective one. When people beclown themselves, they should be laughed at.
It’s noteworthy that Abbas specifically abjures calling for government action to quiet fools. There is not need to take legal action when social action can achieve the same end.
What is the relation between Saudi women driving and rape?!
Faisal J. Abbas
Media outlets should always remember that they have a responsibility towards informing the public and as such, must always strive to adhere to the highest possible standards of professionalism and journalistic ethics.
Many might find it strange that one has to repeat what is – without doubt – the very soul and essential cornerstone of our profession.
However, when reputable Arab television channels are being used as a platform for a clown of the caliber of Saudi historian Saleh al-Sadoon, one wonders whether our job is inform, stimulate minds and raise questions or simply serve as meaningless, yet somewhat entertaining, optical chewing gum for the masses.
The Washington Post runs an analysis of human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. The piece notes that the Kingdom receives low marks on whatever metric is being used to measure liberty interests, including women’s rights, free speech, and religious freedom. The quandary is that most Saudis are not calling for changes in the way things work and, what’s more, it has been the government at the forefront of change and liberalization.
The US government, the article notes, is not eager to get involved in pushing for reform when there’s no popular support for reform. It would rather leave it to the Saudi government to implement changes at a pace acceptable to Saudi society.
The article also points to the question marks hanging over the changes in government following the ascension of King Salman, not noted as a reformer himself.
For almost 70 years, Saudi Arabia has been a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East. The relationship, which famously opened in a meeting on the Suez Canal between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, is based around shared concerns about regional security and crude oil supplies. It has proved remarkably durable, despite a rapidly changing world.
Over the past few months, however, something seems to have shifted. Americans and other Westerners seem to have grown more and more skeptical about the true nature of their ally. In particular, an unusual set of circumstances — including the fearsome rise of the Islamic State, the death of Saudi King Abdullah and renewed concerns about Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks — has led to a significant public debate about Saudi Arabia’s true values.
One particular source of concern has been the state of human rights in the country, highlighted by a spate of public executions and the high profile punishment of liberal blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” last year.
Saudi Gazette translates an op-ed from the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh calling for a new look at the issue of guardianship. The author points out that even a 40- or 50-year-old female government minister might be required to seek the permission from her son before attending an international conference within her professional competence.
The writer is willing to go halfway in making changes, though. She suggests that it still might be proper for “young women” or women traveling for pleasure to obtain permission to travel. Even that, alas, is not enough for some of those commenting on the piece.
How can a young boy be the guardian of a female government minister?
Haya Al-Manee | Al-Riyadh
If a Saudi woman in her 40s or 50s wants to travel abroad to deliver a paper at a scientific conference on nanotechnology or new methods in laser treatment, she would only be able to travel with her guardian’s permission. If she was widowed or divorced, then her guardian might even be her son, who himself may be a schoolboy who is financially supported by his mother.
Another Saudi woman in a similar situation might be going abroad to attend a conference on how to raise children. She would also be required to get permission from her young son to travel.
The entire “guardian permission thing” would make sense if the woman was very young and was planning to go abroad on holiday. However, the restrictions in the above two scenarios are simply unfair. It is paradoxical that we boast of the extraordinary talent and vast knowledge of Saudi women but at the same time curtail their freedoms. We impose restrictions in accordance with changes in our outlook and attitude, and not on the basis of the efficiency and performance of Saudi women. As a result, our women are denied many rights.