Khaled Al-Maeena, now Editor-at-Large at Saudi Gazette, writes about the abysmal state of English-language teaching in Saudi Arabia. He finds it ‘rudimentary’ at best. He’s right, of course.
Most Saudi students, even those who have completed the full curriculum of English at Saudi schools, find it impossible to jump into coursework at universities where English is the medium of instruction. Those attending universities in the US find that rather than four years — the normal duration of undergraduate work — they need five, with the first year consisting of nothing much beyond remedial English language instruction. Graduate students face a harder task as they’re cut very little slack in coursework due to language limitations and the fact that graduate schools do not generally offer English language courses.
Al-Maeena notes the lack of training as well as ability in those assigned to teach English in Saudi schools. With poor instruction, students cannot magically acquire language skills.
Why isn’t English taught properly in our schools?
The Education Department in the Riyadh region has pointed out several deficiencies in the teaching of English language in the nation’s schools.
To me this is a good sign. To admit that there is a problem is a sign that solutions are possible, if there is a will to find and implement these solutions.
Among the negative aspects in the teaching of English outlined by the Education Department were poor and incorrect pronunciation, the use of Arabic in teaching English, no homework, carelessness in writing and no practical use of English writing skills.
There was also little or no utilization of books that assist in teaching the English language to those whose mother tongue is not English and no stress on elocution, dialogue or conversation.
In fact the teaching of English in our schools is done in a basic and rudimentary manner. Added to that is the weakness and the inability of Saudi English language teachers to improvise.
If Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council has its way, sports, athletics and physical education will become part of the curriculum for girls, according to Arab News. The Council has recognized that a sound body is as important as a sound mind.
In its statement, though, it leaves enough conditions and qualifications that those bent on preventing the step will be able to delay it or make it prohibitively expensive for individual schools to implement. The Council could do better.
Shoura green light for girls’ physical education
JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED
The Shoura Council has approved the introduction of physical education for girls at public schools across the Kingdom.
Classes will be conducted according to Islamic principles and traditions, said sources.
The issue has been the subject of much debate, especially after some notable scholars, ruled that physical education, including swimming, was permissible as long as it was practiced in strict privacy.
The Ministry of Education had since allowed some private schools to teach sports to school girls.
The Ministry of Education will soon allow physical education classes for girls in public schools under qualified instructors, according to sources. The decision will be made after taking into account logistical issues, such as space, privacy and the availability of qualified female instructors.
Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic Al-Jazira daily in which the writer notes that according to Saudi Arabia’s Passport Department, there is no law or regulation that requires Saudi women to have their guardian’s permission to travel outside the country. Instead, “it’s left to the discretion of the passport officer.”
So, in addition to the ‘guardianship’ set-up where women are supposed to be represented by male relatives in certain formal situations, they also have to face self-appointed, unrelated guardians. This, the writer notes, is peculiar.
She notes, too, that while there is no law prohibiting Saudi women from driving, there are all sorts of extra-legal prohibitions on it. It is time, she says, for Saudi women to be treated like adults.
Can a Saudi woman travel without her guardian’s permission?
Rogaia Soliman Al-Huwairini | Al-Jazirah
The spokesman of the Passports Department (Jawazat) recently dropped a bombshell. He said in a recent statement that there are no written instructions which prevent Saudi women from traveling without the written consent of their male guardians. He added, moreover, that the only existing regulations are those that prevent people under 21, regardless of their nationality, from traveling abroad without the approval of their parents.
The spokesman explained that preventing Saudi women from traveling abroad is left to the discretion of the passport officer at the point of departure from the Kingdom. The officer will evaluate the woman’s appearance and age before deciding whether or not to allow her to travel. Therefore, each Saudi woman now has two male guardians: one is their normal guardian (father, husband, brother or son) and the second is the passport officer.
Saudi women are arguing for a larger role in soccer, Saudi Gazette reports. Instead of being stuck on the sidelines in positions like sports medicine, they want to be on the pitch, kicking the ball around.
There are already a few, very low key women’s football clubs, but women want more, including recognition that they, too, can be athletes. While they would love to get the kind of support men’s football does, they’d be happy if they can first just obtain the ability to participate and compete.
Eying a goal — Saudi young women dream of playing football
Saudi Gazette report
THE appointment of Arwa Mutabagani to the Board of Directors of the Saudi Equestrian Federation (SEF) has encouraged Saudi sportswomen to try and enter other sports federations in the Kingdom. One of the sports on top of the list is the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF). Experts say if women can penetrate the male-dominated body that administers the country’s club competitions and national teams, official permits to play football and setting up sports facilities for women will soon follow, Al-Madinah daily reported.
Currently, women are allowed to participate in the secondary committees of the federation such as sports medicine, ethics and information and statistics committees, but they have no presence in the primary committees of the federation. Female sports journalist Hana Allouni said the lack of a female presence in the basic committees shows that women are not familiar with the rules and regulations of football.
She also pointed out the importance of Saudi sportswomen’s presence under the General Presidency for Youth Welfare (GPYW) in affiliated committees concerned with women’s sports or Women’s Sports Administration.
While Saudi society has been begrudgingly accepting the fact that women can and should work, it continues to draw lines about what kinds of work are ‘proper’. Saudi Gazette reports that the category is expanding as young Saudi women are shrugging off negative views and are taking up work as waitresses in women-only facilities.
Saudi women overcome social stigmas to become waitresses
Saudi Gazette report
MADINAH — A number of young Saudi women have overcome social stigmas and started working as waitresses in a number of women-only coffee shops in Madinah, local daily Al-Watan reported Sunday.
The women have several duties including preparing and serving coffee in addition to taking down customer orders.
Commenting on this trend, some businesswomen said Saudi women filling these kinds of jobs was part of a social responsibility that everyone should shoulder.
Suzan Al-Mur, a coffee shop owner, described this trend as “positive” and said society is gradually accepting working women after resisting them for a long time.
Gulf News from Dubai carries a story that explains how YouTube has become an alternative — and preferred — source of information for young Saudis. It reports that Google, which own YouTube, complies with government requests to shut down videos for which there is a valid legal reason, but that the Saudi government has been sparing in that regard. It notes, too, that YouTube has been offering support for new video channels produced in the region. Some of those channels are earning millions of dollars for their creators and producers. A new medium indeed.
Why Saudis are world’s biggest YouTube fans
People in Saudi Arabia watch more hours of YouTube content per capita
than anywhere else in the world
Dubai: Google has launched a campaign to develop online videos in the fast-growing market of Saudi Arabia, where residents watch more hours of YouTube content per capita than anywhere else in the world.
Over the past year, time spent on YouTube in the conservative kingdom has increased fivefold, persuading Google to hold a seminar in the oil-rich kingdom to foster closer relationships with producers of Arabic-language web videos.
About 60 per cent of the 350 million people in the Arab world are younger than 25, with internet penetration in the region at about 70 million users — over 300 per cent growth in the last five years, according to numbers from UAE-based entrepreneurship research portal Sindibad Business. Internet penetration is expected to reach 150 million users by 2015.
Traditional media in Saudi Arabia, where more than half the population is younger than 35, is failing to engage youngsters who are turning to the internet for relevant drama, comedy, sports and news.
The same trend is sweeping the broader region, where 310m video views a day make the Middle East and north Africa the world’s second-highest online viewership after the US.
That has generated concern among some of the region’s states about the rise in political expression.
An interesting book review in the Times Literary Supplment (TLS) of the book Reading Darwin in Arabic.
The book reports how Darwin’s theories of evolution and human descent made their way to and were received by Arabs in the late 19th and 20th C. There are some surprises, particularly in the favorable reception of not Darwin, but the derivative and erroneous “social Darwinism” as promulgated by Herbert Spencer. Lamarkism was favorably received as well, though it, too, is largely wrong, modified only by current understandings of epigenetics.
It’s interesting, too, that the theory of evolution was generally accepted without rancor, but has now become a hot-button issue in the region, much like among Christian fundamentalists who prefer to follow a theory of ‘Creationism’.
Darwin in Arabia
READING DARWIN IN ARABIC, 1860–1950
448pp. University of Chicago Press.
The title Reading Darwin in Arabic notwithstanding, most of the men discussed in this book did not read Charles Darwin in Arabic. Instead they read Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Ernst Haeckel, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley, Gustave Le Bon, Henri Bergson and George Bernard Shaw in European or Arabic versions. They also read popularizing accounts of various aspects of Darwinism in the scientific and literary journal al-Muqtataf (“The Digest”, 1876–1952). The notion of evolution that Arab readers took away from their reading was often heavily infected by Lamarckism and by the social Darwinism of Spencer. Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859, but Isma‘il Mazhar’s translation of the first five chapters of Darwin’s book into Arabic only appeared in 1918.
For a long time, the reception of Darwinism was bedevilled by the need to find either neologisms or new twists to old words. As Marwa Elshakry points out, there was at first no specific word in Arabic for “species”, distinct from “variety” or “kind”. “Natural selection” might appear in Arabic with the sense “nature’s elect”. When Hasan Husayn published a translation of Haeckel, he found no word for evolution and so he invented one. Tawra means to advance or develop further. Extrapolating from this verbal root, he created altatawwur, to mean “evolution”. Darwiniya entered the Arabic language. Even ‘ilm, the word for “knowledge” acquired the new meaning, “science”. With the rise of scientific materialism came agnosticism, al-la’adriya, a compound word, literally “the-not-knowing”.
Saudi Gazette front-pages a piece on a petition to the Shoura Council to end male guardianship in Saudi Arabia. A group of women have asked the Council to reevaluate the way in which Saudi women are constrained by having to seek male approval and authorization for actions that in any other country would be at the women’s own behest.
Women demand end to male guardianship
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — The system of male guardianship should end and the citizenship code amended so that Saudi women can grant citizenship to non-Saudi husbands and children, said a recent petition sent by 25 women activists to the Shoura Council on International Women’s Day (Mar. 8), Al-Hayat daily reported on Saturday.
In their letter, the activists, some of whom are university professors, called on the Council to take necessary measures to protect women’s rights and stop domestic violence against them.
Azizah Al-Yousif, one of the activists who signed the petition, said: “This petition renews our demands as women. We want our issues to be put on the top of the Council’s priority list.”
Thuraya Obaid and Lubna Al-Ansari, both Shoura Council members, promised to tackle most of the points raised in the petition, said Al-Yousif.
Arab News also covers the petition:
According to Al Arabiya TV, a top Saudi cleric has reached the conclusion that Google — the owner of YouTube — should be sued because it permits offensive videos to be broadcast over the Internet. We’ll forget that hundreds have already called to this or for YouTube and/or Google to be shut down.
It was not enough that YouTube, in compliance with a court order, took the offending video down last week due to a copyright claim. That, as it proves, was ineffective because the video, with the scenes that had the copyright complainant now excised, is back up.
This, I think, demonstrates that attempts to remove offending materials through brute force tend to be futile. It is far better to just avoid looking at it. Unlike TV, one is not accidentally exposed to materials on YouTube. One has to make an affirmative action — clicking a link or a ‘Play’ button — in order to see it. Clerics might more fruitfully explain to their followers why they should avoid doing those things that will only lead to offense.
Khaled al-Shaya, a top Saudi cleric, recently called on Islamic countries to ban and legislate against Google, after the internet search giant’s apparent “disrespect of Islamic beliefs” in continuing to display an inflammatory video against Islam, news website CNN Arabic reported on Saturday.
Google – the parent company of video sharing site Youtube, which hosted the controversial video entitled “The Innocence of Muslims” – had “insulted the Prophet” by not removing the video, said Shaya, who serves as the assistant secretary-general of the Global Commission for Introducing the Messenger, a Riyadh-based Islamic organization.
The video “insulted the Prophet through distorting facts and spreading falsehoods, which was condemned by Muslims as well as all those who support rightness and justice,” said Shaya, adding that the Islamic world needed to “look into” freedom of expression.
The injunction issued by the 9th Circuit Court requiring YouTube to take down the offensive “Innocence of Muslims” video based on copyright law is being challenged. Google — which own YouTube — has filed an emergency motion to stay the enforcement. Eugene Volokh has more…
An interesting piece from Al Arabiya TV criticizing an article appearing in the Arabic daily Al-Madinah. That article called for Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to become more involved in monitoring social media with the purpose of protecting society from unwanted and dangerous messages.
Controlling social media is fraught with problems that make it impossible to actually do. Simply blocking the various media do not address the issues behind criticism or complaint. Blocking does, however, squelch free speech, alternate opinion, challenges to received wisdom, and dissent. While these can be uncomfortable for some, can be factually wrong, can be ‘inconvenient truths’, they are not and should not be stopped.
Never mind that the Commission doesn’t have the technical wherewithal to effectively monitor all social media. Never mind that the Saudi government’s efforts to filter the Internet are porous and can be defeated with relative ease. The point is that the attempt is wrong in principle.
Saudi religious police to monitor social media?
Eman El-Shenawi | Al Arabiya News
A Saudi columnist has encouraged the country’s religious police to monitor social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, targeting “evil” accounts that “promote pornography, magic and sorcery.”
In a column published in the Saudi-based al-Madina newspaper on Friday, Lulu al-Hubaishi noted that efforts by the religious police, officially known as the Commission of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, to target such “vices” should be bolstered.
“The decision of the Haia (religious police) to activate its awareness and to monitor social media violations, which are difficult to control and purify in terms of contents, is extremely important in order to protect society and the youth, especially those who frequently visit social networking websites with good intentions,” wrote Hubaishi.
The writer went on to say that the police force should look beyond popular platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.
“The New Yorker” magazine’s online site runs an article about the consequences a Saudi woman is facing after writing about the meaning of beards in the Kingdom (“silly,” in her terms). The critique could have been applied to Pakistan as well, but the article focuses on Saudi Arabia.
It’s very clear that there are subtle and not-to-subtle messages being sent by beards — shape, length, color, as well as lack of a beard. The signalling is primarily used in a religious context to identify people who share the same beliefs. As the “New Yorker” writer notes, the beards of members of the Muslim Brotherhood differ from those of Salafis and the Al-Saud, including King Abdullah, wear them differently as well.
Messing around with religious signals can be risky because it’s seen as a challenge to one’s piety. And if there’s one thing the religiously conservatives hate — and fear — is that their piety be challenged. Sometimes, as here, the result is threats to one’s life and that of one’s family.
A Saudi Woman Is Threatened After Tweeting About Beards
The controversy began—as virtually all political and religious debate in Saudi Arabia does these days—with a provocative tweet. On January 18th, Souad al-Shammary, a liberal activist with more than a hundred thousand Twitter followers, tweeted her thoughts about the idea, popular among devout Saudis, that Muslim men should grow long beards in order to differentiate themselves from unbelievers. The notion was “silly,” Shammary wrote, pointing out that “Jews, priests, Communists and Marxists” have also been known to wear beards.
Shammary is the co-founder of a group that calls itself the Saudi Liberal Network, in a country where liberaliyeen—Saudis use the English word, giving it an Arabic plural—are so widely reviled that even prominent feminists and human-rights advocates shy away from the label. She has never been popular among Saudi conservatives. But her remarks about beards were met with an unusually violent reaction. Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, a former imam at the Grand Mosque in Mecca (in 2008, when he became the first black man appointed to the post, some in the Kingdom dubbed him “the Saudi Obama”), announced that Shammary should be tried for insulting the Prophet, adding that he prayed for her to become blind and to lose the use of a hand.
In the past month, via Twitter, thousands of conservatives have echoed Kalbani’s remarks, attacking Shammary and calling for her to be put on trial. Some have gone a step further, accusing Shammary of apostasy, an offense that carries the death penalty under Sharia law. Last week, Shammary told an interviewer for the BBC World Service that she and her family had received so many threats that she had gone into hiding.