Blackmail: Saudi Style

This is a quite expressive cartoon by a longstanding cartoonist, Al Rabea, from yesterday’s edition of Al Riyadh newspaper. It depicts a recurring and widespread situation in Saudi Arabia. In it a woman is backed against the wall in a helpless and hopeless fetal position and a man is pointing his camera equipped cell phone at her. The man has his understanding and polite face mask pulled off to reveal the meanness and devil ears beneath. Around the couple are scattered Bluetooths. The story behind this drawing is that many men take advantage of the oppressive nature of this society by befriending and pursuing vulnerable Saudi women until they let down their guard and send photos of themselves to these men. These men then use the photos to blackmail the women, mostly for sex but also for money and sometimes just for the fun of it.

In many cases the photos are usually quite innocent and if seen anywhere else in the world, it would not mean much. But here the possession of a photo of a Saudi woman with only her regular clothes on and without an abaya or hijab is scandalous and could cause a lot of trouble for the woman. Husbands divorce their wives solely on that basis. Even worse, a woman’s children could be taken away because she would be considered an unfit mother and a bad influence on her daughters.

Two extremely high profile cases that happened a decade ago, just when digital photography started going mainstream here caused the government to issue laws against men who use these photos. The first case was of an average single Saudi girl who during a trip to Makkah visited a young man’s apartment after a phone relationship. The guy took photos, some of which were compromising and explicit. Later in the relationship he got mad at the girl for one reason or another and posted the photos with a map to her family’s home in Riyadh and her full name. The aftermath was tragic. The girl was taken to a remote part of the desert and burned to death by her own brothers. The other case was that a young man who belongs to a high status family got mad at his teenage girlfriend and asked his slave* to rape her while he filmed it on his cell phone. This particular Bluetooth really got around and only Saudis living under rocks haven’t seen it. The girl was still in her school uniform and begging the guy to call the slave off. These two cases got so much attention that they pushed the government to act. Now a man who is caught blackmailing or passing out photos of a Saudi woman can be prosecuted and punished. On the other hand, this will also need the woman or at least her family to come forward and press charges so it doesn’t work that well if the woman comes from an extremely conservative family. Note that these cases are handled with the utmost sensitivity on the part of the government and the name of the woman is kept secret throughout the process. But if the girl cannot confide in her family because they might literally kill her or at least inflict serious physical and emotional harm, how is she supposed to be able to confide in the authorities? I have heard of cases where more mature women skipped family support and went directly to the authorities via the vice patrol (muttawas). Surprisingly, the muttawas are very forgiving. As long as at the end of the day they have someone to prosecute, they will willingly overlook the woman’s original discrepancy that got her into trouble in the first place.

The comments that this cartoon got on the newspaper’s website were about 140 in less than 24 hours. I skimmed through them and a substantial number of them blame the women. They write that if women observed the correct hijab and cover then they would not have gotten into trouble. They go as far as to write that women are completely to blame because they seduce naïve and innocent men into doing these things. Some simply thanked the cartoonist for airing the topic. Many used terms like wolves to refer to men and condemned them. A few men wrote about how the sympathize with women and how sad and lonely life can get for women here. 

* I use the term slave for lack of a better word. These workers are not legally bound to their employers but voluntarily enslave themselves so in every other sense they are slaves.


Filed under Culture, Gender Apartheid, Informative, Popular

33 responses to “Blackmail: Saudi Style

  1. Excuse me while I pick up my jaw from off the floor! This is just so shocking and heartbreaking to me. There is just so much that is wrong with this situation that I have no idea where to begin. It seems so typical for things like this to be blamed on the woman here. To think that this is the 21st Century and things like this happen in this society … all I can do is shake my head in disbelief. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Umm Latifa

    salam alaykum, the question which I ask myself and probably is asked by a lot of people. Why the women knowing the culture in Saudi Arabia and rules of islam expose themselves to such danger – by sending their photos without covers, arranging dates and meeting in private with unrelated men? Please do not understand that I want to say, that the blame is “on the head” of a women only. Men who cross the borders of the Islamic/Saudi code (khulwa) are guilty as well. But one thing is certain: they both do something which is regarded by Islam and Saudi society as a shameful act/crime (I am referring to the state of khulwa). Isn’t it better to be safe then sorry… Are Saudi women naive or looking for love? What makes Saudi women to risk their reputation and good name by such acts?

    • Mark

      This is actually pretty common for Saudi girls to send photos. I know many English lads alone who have internet chat relationships with Saudi girls they have either met in London or on the net where they continue the online relationship and exchange pictures.. I think it is beautiful… A woman can express herself in any way she wishes as long as it is legal… Problem is, even speaking to a westerner is death…

      • Usman

        I bet you never came out of your basement let alone of your claim that you have been in ME. You frustration is apparent from every single of your comment.

  3. Umm Latifa

    BTW: And loose their lives, as well… Worth to add – honor killings do not have any basis in islam!

  4. This is horrible. I feel so bad for these women. As an outsider, I get the impression that Saudi women have few people in their lives they can trust and rely upon to have their backs, no matter what…especially when it comes to the men in their families. I know…if some guy disrespected me like that, my brother would kick HIS ass (sorry).

    Umm Latifa Says: Why the women knowing the culture in Saudi Arabia and rules of islam expose themselves to such danger – by sending their photos without covers, arranging dates and meeting in private with unrelated men?

    That is a good question. I have no idea; maybe Saudi women aren’t that different than most women who want someone who loves them and respects them, someone they can trust, someone to be their friend as well as their husband. I suspect that Saudi women don’t know what it’s like to have a man as a “friend” (and, yes…it is possible – at least in my world – to have a male friend who likes you as a person but doesn’t want to have sex with you). I would love to talk to Saudi women to ask them directly, why do they take the risk.


  5. Very interesting & informative text. As I was reading, I was surprised that there would actually be a law prohibiting men from this behavior. I thought for sure it would be a law punishing the women for getting themselves into the mess. Then I went on to read that that was exactly the tone of your 140 comments. Sad commentary.

  6. Salam

    It is sad, however, considering the Saudi social norms… in the West this would be somewhat equivalent to allowing your boyfriend videotape your lovemaking, only to find it later on YouTube… It is something that can not be undone later, so it is important to help young women understand the consequences of this kind of actions.

    To those who think that men and women can be friends… Only women can think like that. Women who do not understand what’s going on in man’s mind. They are always dirtier then women think, not because it is their fault, but because biologically they are created in this way. Do to their hormonal, anatomical and other differences – men think 2-3 times more about sex during the day than women, and it is more important to them, and it is harder for them to control themselves because of these things. I also did not believe this until I saw western scientific studies done on this.

    • men and women can be friends

      That is what fears have been created to say there is a need for those divisions to exist, preventing normal mixing between men and women in society. Because whoever creates these fears and beliefs that men and women can’t associate unless related or married, is using it just for the purposes of keeping women in a place of being lesser human beings, or property, without equal rights or choice. Or even choice to do anything about changing it.

    • Sorry Salam, but your theory on men being incapable of being friends with women without sexual thoughts is a load of crap. In a society like Saudi Arabia where sexual repression is so intense that there is rarely opportunity for the genders to freely be friends, sure, there’s an ongoing sexual tension inherent with this repression. In the sexually overboard western world, people are so desensitized because of sexuality overload that people are very able to be friends with mixed genders, in fact large numbers of men can only be attracted to model perfect women and would never be attracted to an overweight woman, or a plain woman who wears no make up and plain clothes, or an old tired mother. My gay male friends are not attracted to me at all. It is not so clear cut as you put it. My theory is that hte more genders are segregated and sexuality repressed, the more intense the attractions become because they are taboo.

      • Usman

        wife mom maniac,

        I am male living in Canada for over a decade and I pretty much agree with Salam.

        You said:
        “in fact large numbers of men can only be attracted to model perfect women and would never be attracted to an overweight woman, or a plain woman who wears no make up and plain clothes, or an old tired mother”

        Dead wrong!
        Men have their share of fetish for plain or overweight woman. Far more fetish then they have for Ideal model. We have our sexual fetish for fat women, women who are 20 years older than us, pregnant, smokers..,list goes on. Hardly a day pass when we don’t have any impulse. We get impulse from the things you can’t even imagine.
        I better stop here!

      • I’m not disagreeing with you that there’s different strokes for different folks, but a fetish by definition is a specific thing that someone needs, a person who has a specific fetish would not be attracted to every single woman he got to have a conversation with, simply because of her gender. If a person was really into any of your examples, then odds are high he could be friends with someone who did not characterize those things. As opposed to someone who thinks of ALL women as sexual pitfalls to be avoided for their temptress potential. Your post hasn’t responded to what I’m saying.

        For example, here in Canada, where I also am, it’s normal for women to show lots of skin, so people don’t really look twice at an averagely dressed woman’s ankles or arms if she’s modestly dressed by Western standards. In cultures where it’s taboo for women to show arms and ankles, this woman’s skin showing of these parts would stand out like a sore thumb and be seen in a far more erotic fashion, because of the erotic power the placing of a taboo generates.

        In a situation where friendships between men and women are the taboo, there would be far more erotic power, and the only men I know like that in the West are either sex fiends and wierdos who don’t have many female friends, or from other cultures that imprinted them with cultural norms that aren’t the norm here in canada (like in the East Indian neighborhood I lived in once in Vancouver, where I lived with a few other young white girls, the old men could not stop seeing us as sex objects, while their sons who grew up there didn’t look at us twice).

        Just because some of you responding aren’t able to have friendships with women without wanting to sleep with them, doesn’t mean other men can’t as well.

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  8. Susan Doheny

    I’m trying to reach Rabea in order to get the
    rights to a cartoon for a book in the states.
    If you have any information you can forward to
    me, that would get great. I’ve tried an email
    address without any response. I’ve also tried
    contacting Al-Riyadh directly through email.
    Susan Doheny

  9. Pingback: Saudi woman top five blog posts « Saudiwoman’s Weblog

  10. Women get themselves into these situations because they’re lonely. Maybe even their male relatives mistreat them, and they’re looking for someone to trust who will save them from the situation they’re in. It’s hard for someone to suppress his or her feelings, especially when all around there’s a constant reminder of “No, you can’t!”
    A while ago, I watched an episode of Tash Ma Tash which presented this exact issue. The raping, beatings, and murder by family and ex-boyfriends are all too present, and the blame always falls on the women, but the men are usually at greater fault, committing the actual crimes and who initially lured them in. When will this mentality ever change?!

    • jac

      lol Women get themselves into these situations because they’re lonely only the sadest od all sad men could wright that 🙂

  11. Dr. M. Abdulrahman

    Few things I like to comment. Every human being has weaknesses and a weak moment, so we shouldn’t blame all women for not having a better judgment. Very few of them knew what they were doing but not all. As much as we presume what other people are thinking, we can never know. I’m not making an excuse but men and women do not feel about romance and love a same way. Women can believe fairy tales and can be tricked. The Qur’an talked about the weakness of the women’s heart. Also women that grew up without leadership are at loss in life sometimes and can be vulnerable to bad men. God created both sexes for each other and when you think absolute the worst of human kind and barricade them a part, then you are not constructing anything instead you created a whole nation of men that from sunrise to sunset chasing and guarding women at the same time. A whole nation of women that either getting married at the age of 8 to 80 years old or never get married because she can’t have the man she wanted for either monetary or lineage reasons.

    I was amazed when I visited the Kingdom for the first time when some men tried unsuccessfully to kidnap a girl away from her grandmother’s arms in broad daylight. It was the first and only time I’ve ever witnessed a kidnapping and I was shaken. Even more amazingly nobody cared. The reasoning for everybody was they shouldn’t walk without a male companion. Would that kidnapping be permissible if the Prophet (PUH) were here? I understand if you blame the women when something happens to them during the visitation of men’s place, but the streets should be made safe by the authorities.

    We (men) have the duty to lead women not to take advantage of them. Oh women, please be careful, you are already under duress in Saudi Arabia, don’t add some more to yourself and be kind to your maids.


    • Usman

      “We (men) have the duty to lead women not to take advantage of them.”

      What does that mean?

      • Dr. M. Abdulrahman

        I’m sorry Usman, I always forget that this is a blog for everyone not only Muslims. I just assumed that every man knows that God, in Koran and other God’s books, order us (men) to be responsible for our women in our Society. Please forgive me for not elaborating that. Even if the women decided send you a BAD picture, we should destroy it, correct? Let alone asking for it or even use it against her. We (men) should tell her not to send these kinds of photos, right? Isn’t that a leadership? That is what I meant. What is your take on that responsibility Usman?

      • jac

        Maybe lead not the right word as men and women are equal so men should never ever take women for granted and just use them for what ever we want its called respect

  12. Usman

    Dr. Sahab,

    Men and women who are related to each other SHARE responsibility with each other. There is no question of leadership or gender here at all. Also, you d0 not have to be Muslim or non-Muslim to come to terms with this mutually accepted value.

  13. Dr. M. Abdulrahman

    I’m honored that you called me SAHAB. I have no idea what that means but it is good I hope. Is it Arabic? Anyway it seems we are on same page. Thanks for the discussion.

    • Usman

      I thought you are form sub-continent, anyway sahab is a suffix used to give honor in Urdu. It is derived from Arabic word sahib though intention and meaning in Arabic are different.

  14. Umm Abdur Razaaq

    I am a Muslim revert living on an island in the Caribbean, my husband studied in the Islamic University in Madina. I used to envy the women who live in Saudi Arabia, now….I feel so much empathy for them.I’m wondering how can these men, who live in the land that our Holy Prophet lived in can even think for one second to allow themselves to become so weak to be involved in something so vile and despicable. I agree, the women should empower themselves and become strong so as to not be coerced into such actions. My advice is to encourage Saudi women to lower their mahrs so that they will get married sooner and faster;seek the companionship of righteous women;involve yourselves in seeking knowledge in the classes that are available to women;and last butnot least…do not EVER allow a man to humiliate you!Allow created jannah for you..what you do not get in this world…surely you shall get in the next.

  15. Maria

    Hats off to Umm Abdur Razzaq!

  16. Hamza Farooq

    Reminds me the ban on cellphone which have camera in them. Feel sorry for people who have become victim of such cellphones.

  17. مقالك ذكرني اليوم و انا اشيك على صور في الفيس بوك انتبهت ان احد الممرضات حطت صوره لموظفة استقبال سعوديه – البنت عتيبيه – و من عائله تقليديه جد و هي دائما تلبس النقاب – بس طبعا في الصوره كانت بس لابسه الشيله – بعد ما عرفت البنت انها في الصوره – صار عندها مغص – هي اساسا عندها القولون – الصوره كانت عاديه جدا – حتى انها لابسه فييل – لكن من دون نقاب – تقول و الله اهلي بيذبحوني
    عشان وجهها مكشوف بالصوره!!!!!!!!!

  18. Saudi men here have reputation as harsh, rude, sexist.
    Well, yes Prophet Muhammad salallahu alaihi wa salam is from Arab, but don’t forget, the ones that tries to murder him were also Arabs.

    Then what about facebook? No Saudi woman has it? Or no profile pic? Hmmm…
    My father allows me to post my pics on FB as long as i only show my hands and face, and no over the top poses.
    Yay for my daddy!!

  19. Ulla

    Signs of a Hypocrite (narrated by Aby Hurairah)

    Signs of hypocrite are three. Whenever he speaks he lies,Whenever he promises, he breaks his promises and whenever he has been entrused, he betrays his trust – Even if he fasts and prays and even if he claims he is a Muslim.

    I hope all this “righteous” people heard that at least once
    I was speachless after reading this article. Cant blame teenagers for being naive and lack of experience but its sad to see that human life is worth just a joke….Technology love it or curse it?

  20. how can someone even burn their sister ? this is so horrible

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