Prominent Saudis: Mrs. Nora Al Faiz

Mrs. Al Faiz has only recently become a household name in Saudi Arabia. She comes from an average middle-class family from the central region in Saudi Arabia. She graduated from King Saud University in Riyadh in 1978 majoring in Sociology. She married Sulaiman Al Suwlai a year before graduating and later accompanied him for higher education in the USA where she went on to get a masters degree in education from Utah State University in 1982.  After returning to Saudi Arabia, she worked as a teacher in public schools for a couple of years and was quickly promoted to educational supervisor and then from there she moved on to numerous management positions in the field of education, most notable of which is head principal of the girls section at Prince Al waleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Schools. And the most recent was director of the women’s section at the Administration Institute in Riyadh. And I just have to add here that in her last post she truly made a reputation for herself and I have yet to come across any negative comments by people who have worked or studied under her. Also I myself, having sat at a few recruitment interviews, I find that the ladies from the Administration Institute always outshined the others in professionalism and skills.

What truly stands out about the appointment of Mrs. Nora Al Faiz is that even though she is highly qualified, everyone was surprised that she was chosen. Usually high profile women positions are reserved for members of the royal family or at least distant relatives. Some of my friends just assumed that Mrs. Al Faiz is somehow related to the royal family. Another issue concerning Mrs. Al Faiz that has overtaken the topic of her being appointed on forums and in social gatherings is the emergence of a photo of her with her face uncovered. The photo was taken from a book, Saudi Leaders, of which there is a digital version at:

http://www.leaders-saudiarabia.com/leaders_saudiarabia_az.php

 Some of the more outrageous comments that I saw is one at a women only forum in which someone started a thread urging all women to condemn the publication of the photo in newspapers on the basis that this will lead to girls looking up to an uncovered Saudi woman and ultimately Allah’s punishment of our country. Some of the ladies at these forums think that the photo is a passport photo that was stolen from Mrs. Al Faiz and published against her will as part of a conspiracy against Muslim women.

Today in Al Watan newspaper, there was an interview with Mrs. Al Faiz and the photos accompanying the interview were of her father, her sons and a baby granddaughter (everyone except the interviewee). The interview was impressively long and comprehensive. I’m only going to translate the parts concerning her stance on the publishing of her photo in local newspapers and a few other points. I would like to point out beforehand that the administration that runs girls’ education in Saudi is completely male:

Q. The sections concerning the administration of women is all male and they waited for you to visit as part of your introductory tour last Sunday but you did not pass by them.

A. I’ve never said that I would visit mens’ office buildings and I have no intention of visiting them because I am still a woman of this country and the blood that runs through my veins is Saudi. Saudi Arabia has guided us in not mixing with men. Men are my brothers and colleagues and with my hand in theirs we will carry out this journey together regardless if the man is above me or a subordinate. We have means through which we can carry on discussions such as closed circuit TVs. And we have a meeting today with managers and general directors through closed circuit and we will exchange on an intellectual level and not as a man to a woman. We will meet intellectually, cooperate and hold each others hands. Gender is an obstacle that can be overcome between men and women.

Q. How will meetings with the minister of education be conducted?

A. Through closed circuit TV as well.

Q. The building of the administration of girls’ education forbids the entrance of women even though it runs an administration which chiefly concerns women. If women need to have paperwork done they have to resort on asking a male relative or hiring a male representative, will this continue?

A. Now I’m the deputy minister and my door is open and accessible And Allah willing we will make it as easy as possible for people who need a service.

Q. We saw your photo on the first page of a newspaper with photos of other ministers, what is your comment regarding that?

A. The publication of my photo upset me immensely and frankly I don’t know where they got it from but they asked me several times and I rejected and it is well known that I am a Saudi woman from Najd and thus I wear a niqab. I will never allow the publishing of my photo in newspapers and I will not accept that it be put up anywhere. Regretfully however I wished that they had first asked me for permission and if I would have prosecuted them through the judicial system, I am sure that I would win. But I am forgiving. If it is possible, I would like to express through your good newspaper my absolute refusal to any form of photography published of me, but some things are out of my hands and Allah is above all and I hope that they will eventually find the true path.

Q. How did they get the photo?

A. I swear that I don’t know its source nor where they got it from.

Q. Did you speak to the newspaper and try to ask about your photo?

A. yes, and a lady from there came to meet me and told me that they would publish it again and I said no please and if you do, expect that there will be a reaction on the photo from me or the vice minister Faisal Al Moamer.

34 Comments

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34 responses to “Prominent Saudis: Mrs. Nora Al Faiz

  1. She’s going to have to tread lightly here. She is going to be either the doom and gloom or an example for all women. Some critics I’m sure will do nothing more than attack her based on what she wears, how she interacts with males, and if her face is covered or not rather than issues that need to be addressed in education. Progress is going to be very slow going w/ so many focusing on such trivial issues such as what she is wearing.

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  3. I wish I could understand more readily about issues like this. To me, having meetings via closed circuit TV because men and women cannot mix, and not allowing women into an office dealing with girls’ education – no matter how hard I try to understand this mentality, I cannot get beyond how nonsensical it is to me. It always seems to boil down to how men here cannot be trusted to control themselves around women and how women always have to be punished for it. I am uncomfortable dealing with veiled women – one’s facial expressions are so important. The veil immediately says “barrier” to me and as an open minded friendly American, it is so hard for me to grasp. The no mixing Saudi policy just seems to create so many more social problems than the ones it tries to prevent.
    I wish Mrs. Al-Faiz the best of luck in her new position, but she seems to be a very strict traditionalist, so I wouldn’t count on many advances for women under her watch. She’s going to have to conform to the higher ups (men) and she’ll be booted out if she’s too progressive. Hopefully I am wrong…

  4. saudiwoman

    Hi Susie
    I know exactly what you mean. I am currently being taught via closed circuit and it is frustrating. And if you say anything then everyone gives you looks and you can tell by their eyes that they assume the worst, as if I am less of a Muslim and Saudi just for expressing my views. Anyway I know Mrs. Al Faiz to be quite progressive but there’s only so much she can do.

  5. Shafiq

    I wish her the best, and Allah willing, it will be easy for her.

    I’m also confused by the Closed Circuit TV thing and the whole assumption that women and men can’t talk directly. If the Prophet (SAW) had no problem talking to women, why does the conservative establishment find it such an issue. In addition, it’s not compulsory to wear a Niqab so why the big deal?

    As an outside observer I’m hoping for the best, but have the feeling that not much will change.

  6. Pingback: Prominent Saudis: Mrs. Nora Al FaizThe problem lies withinthink that the photo is a passport photo that was stolen from Mrs. Al Faiz and published against her will as part of a conspiracy against Muslim women. « Muslim786malaysia’s Blog

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  8. Pingback: DONNE OGGI. Nora al Faiz. Prima donna parlamentare in Arabia Saudita. Per volere dei Allah. : Fridamagazine

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  10. I love the little series you are doing with Prominent Saudis. Can I suggest a subject?

    How about Naila as-Soweil, who is a diplomat here at the Saudi Embassy in DC? The fact that she is a ranking member of the diplomatic staff at the Embassy and highly educated would certainly dispell some myths people have about Saudi.

    Cheers!

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