Apparently lacking anything more important to do, Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council has decided to wade into the issue of what female TV presenters wear while on the air, according to this Arab News report. They’re not entirely out of sync with Saudi society, though, as many were outraged when a female Saudi diplomat at the UN had the effrontery to address the Security Council while not wearing hijab and abaya.
Can one be Saudi without wearing national costume? Apparently not.
Shoura passes dress code law for women TV anchors
JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR
The Shoura Council has passed a new law that would make it mandatory for women TV anchors working in the Kingdom to wear modest dress and not show off their beauty.
Ahmed Al-Zailaee, chairman of the media committee at the consultative body, said once the law is passed by the Cabinet it would apply to all women media workers in the Kingdom, including those of MBC and Rotana.
Latifa Al-Shualan, a Shoura member, expressed surprise at the council’s interest in the dress code of women TV anchors, and said there are other more important issues to tackle.
“There are many other pressing issues such as the danger posed by the media activities of the so-called Islamic State terrorist group,” she said.
Saudi Arabia’s statistical department has released new figures on unemployment in the Kingdom, stating that the average unemployment is now 11.7% (5.9 percent among men; 32.5 percent among women). It sees the reduction as a result of government efforts to put more Saudis into jobs, that is, the Nitiqat Saudization program.
The Arab News article goes on to note that not everyone is accepting the official numbers, claiming that unemployment is significantly higher.
Saudi jobless rate down to 11.7%: Nitaqat pays off
JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR
The Nitaqat nationalization program was successful in bringing down the Kingdom’s unemployment rate to 11.7 percent — 5.9 percent among men and 32.5 percent among women, said the Central Department of Statistics and Information (CDSI).
In a statement issued on Sunday, the department put the total number of unemployed Saudis at 650,000, including 258,000 men and 392,000 women.
The department, which comes under the Ministry of Economy and Planning, said reports on unemployment rate in the Kingdom published by some newspapers and other media organizations were not correct.
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.
Saudis are prickly when it comes to privacy. They hesitate to mention the names of female members of their families. There was a movement to ban camera-enabled cell phones because they put cameras in the hands of everyone. And of course, face veils serve to protect the privacy of women.
Saudi Gazette reports that the ubiquitous cameras can present legal problems, particularly when paired with the Internet. Fines of up to half a million Saudi Riyals can be assessed for improperly posting pictures of individuals who have not given their permission to do so.
The downside of street photography
Taking pictures as a hobby can lead you straight to prison if you violate the cybercrime law and post the picture online.
Saudi Gazette report
TAKING photos in public, once an unthinkable social breach is now the norm thanks to smart phones.
The emergence of social media websites, coupled with the Kingdom’s high Internet adoption rate, has made it possible for Saudis to post and exchange photos they take with their smart phone cameras in real time.
However, sometimes the photos taken can offend members of society and this has created a debate on the issue of privacy rights, Al-Riyadh daily reported.
It seems that the majority of Saudis as well as members of the expatriate community are unaware of the Kingdom’s cybercrime law, which sets out penalty and fines for such actions.
For example, Article 3 of the law sets a penalty of one-year imprisonment or a fine that does not exceed SR500,000 for anyone who uses a cell phone to take a picture that violates the privacy rights of others and then posts the picture on social media websites.
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.
There are those within conservative Islam who argue that women have no place when it comes to discussing or analyzing Islam; that’s men’s work. They may have custom on their side, but they don’t have history.
Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic daily Al-Hayat in which the writer points out the actual historic role women have played in the intellectual sphere of Islam.
Ibn Hajr, a man tutored by women
Zainab Ghasib | Al-Hayat
While the rights of women are being violated and so-called scholars who pretend they are learned continue to belittle and distort the image of women, Islam has painted a colorful image of women since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and up until the last days of the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258).
Women began to be viewed with disrespect during the Ottoman times in which most rulers enjoyed numerous slave girls and mistresses. Nevertheless, even in that era there were many well-educated female scholars. During the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) there lived a woman called Sakina Al-Hussain (may Allah be pleased with her). She held classes regularly at her home that were attended by poets, intellectuals and thinkers—people who wanted to learn from her. She judged poets and critiqued poems. More importantly, no thinker or scholar opposed her even though there were many great scholars around at that time.
There was another great woman named Wallada Al-Mostakfi who lived during the last days of the Umayyad Caliphs. She had also opened her home to scholars, thinkers and intellectuals who attended her sessions and learned from her.
Saudi Gazette reports that young Saudi women are not content to lead the kind of lives their mothers led. As a result, many are choosing to remain single into their 20s and 30s instead of being married and becoming mothers themselves in their teens. Not everyone is pleased.
JEDDAH — Amna Fatani knows she wants a brilliant career and a life different from that of Saudi women of her mother’s generation who married early, usually to a husband not of their own choosing.
The 27-year-old, studying for her master’s degree at Georgetown University in Washington and hoping to someday realize her ambitions, is part of a growing number of Saudi women choosing to remain single through their 20s and into their 30s as they pursue other ambitions.
The trend has ruffled conservatives who see it as an affront to the very foundations of the Kingdom, where rigid tribal codes have long dictated the terms of marriage.
“My friends and I have reached a point (where) we’re very specific about what we want,” she said. “I need someone who trusts that if I need to do something, I can make the decision to ask for help or choose to do it alone.”
Saudi women stand at the center of a societal pivot between the Kingdom’s push for greater women’s education and rights to work, and laws that give men final say over their lives.
In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Adbulrahman Al-Rashed comments on the recent flurry surrounding Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi’s appearance on TV with his unveiled wife and declaration that Islam does not require women to be veiled in order to protect their modesty. In addition to receiving a negative reaction — and threats — from some, the Grand Mufti also jumped in to state that he was in error.
Al-Rashed points out that by going on TV in this way, the sheikh has opened new ground for discourse in Saudi Arabia. Instead of private conversations undertaken in homes, issues of modernization and reform are now finding public fora, including social media. This, he says, can only be for the good.
Why did Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Ghamidi succeed?
The enormity of stock market losses, the drop in oil prices for the first time in years, ISIS massacres, terrorists’ attacks in Riyadh and its suburbs and the football fever have all faded in Saudi Arabia this week in the shadow of one single story. Sheikh Ahmad Qassem al-Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife on television. According to Saudi local standards, this is tantamount to a nuclear bomb and the story soon developed into a controversy that hasn’t settled yet on all platforms and levels.
This may seem like a silly issue in any other Muslim country but in Saudi Arabia it has shocked and angered many and become an amazing surprise to those in support of Ghamidi’s move. The event thus confirms a severe division within Saudi society which consists of movements that express its diversity. Some threatened to sue Al-Ghamidi, though I don’t know over what! While other considered him a modernizing pioneer whom history will immortalize. The certain truth is that Sheikh Ghamidi has shocked Saudi public opinion and reshuffled views once again – although many before him have made such a move, he’s actually the first cleric to do so. Ghamidi has assumed influential religious posts and has accepted to be challenged by his rivals who accused him of hypocrisy and advising others of what he cannot do. It’s on colleague Badria al-Bishr’s show on MBC television that Ghamidi appeared with his unveiled wife in defiance of others, and Saudi media arenas became gripped in this controversy ever since.
Arab News reports that a number of Saudis are planning to sue Sheikh al-Ghamdi. As al-Rashed notes in his piece, however, what grounds they might find for suing is a pretty big question.
A couple of days ago, the former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca said that there’s no religious obligation for Muslim women to cover their faces. Today, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti says that’s mistaken. He points to two verses from the Quran which he says do require covering.
Retract remarks and repent, Grand Mufti advises Al-Ghamdi
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH – Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Aal Alsheikh has asked Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, former Makkah chief of Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia), to repent for his recent comments on niqab (face veil) which have created a lot of controversy in the country.
During a local program presented by Dr. Badriya Al-Bishr, a prominent Saudi media personality, Al-Ghamdi said women were not required to wear niqab (face veil). Al-Ghamdi was accompanied by his wife without a niqab.
Grand Mufti said there are Quranic verses that say hijab (head cover) is obligatory for each and every Muslim woman and that women should cover their faces, MBC.net reported. Alsheikh cited the following Quranic verses:
Al Arabiya TV reports on the storm of social media following the appearance of a Saudi cleric — formerly head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Mecca — in which he stated that the wearing of the veil is not obligatory for Muslim women. While Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi received abuse and threats from some, he also received support from others on Twitter.
Al-Ghamdi has raised the ire of conservatives in Saudi Arabia on earlier occasions, as when he stated that music was not forbidden by Islam and that men and women working together was entirely fine in principle.
A Saudi cleric caused massive controversy this week when he said on a prominent television program that contrary to what some Muslims believe, women are NOT required to wear the niqab (face veil) and are allowed to use make-up and other beauty products.
To further strengthen his argument, Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamidi brought his wife UNVEILED to last Saturday’s “Badria,” a talk show hosted by the renowned Saudi media personality Badria al-Bishr on Al Arabiya’s sister channel, MBC. (Episode can be watched here).
Ghamdi, who is a former head of the Holy City of Makkah’s branch of the Saudi Committee for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (commonly known as the Religious Police), was discussing a fatwa (religious edict) which he had issued previously, permitting women to show their faces and wear make-up.
In another small step toward diversifying the Saudi economy away from petroleum, Saudi Arabia will soon have its own chocolate factory. Saudi Gazette reports that the Mars company is opening its first chocolate factory in the Kingdom next week. The company says it will be focusing its attention on bringing women into the workplace, but does not yet have firm plans ready to be announced.
Mars treat for Saudis: A chocolate factory in Rabigh
Selma Roth | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — Following an initial investment of $60 million and allocation of an additional $150 million over the next decade, Mars Saudi Arabia will open on Tuesday its first chocolate factory in the Kingdom at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Rabigh.
During a press conference on the occasion of the inauguration here on Monday, Sami Darouni, Mars, Inc. regional president of the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, said although Mars had been present in the Kingdom for over 30 years, he was very proud that the first chocolate factory in this country and the third in the region — following plants in Dubai and Egypt — is now up and running.
“We’re very proud to say that we have the Platinum status” at the Ministry of Labor’s Nitaqat program, as 60 percent of our associates are Saudi employees, Darouni said, using the word “associates” for the employees hired at the factory, a term Mars uses to reflect its culture of equality.