I’m a blogger. This is what was written in Arab News today, the leading Saudi English paper in an article about women’s sports clubs here. Another thing that I’m not is a social worker. I’m a lecturer. I teach English as a foreign language and for specific academic purposes. But what I was really disappointed in was that the writer got my viewpoint all wrong. She asked me what I thought about religious people using the government to close down sports clubs. The issue being that these clubs are increasingly becoming popular with Saudi women. Women only sports clubs have been popping up everywhere and their fees are now within reach of the average woman. They offer aerobic classes, self-defense and even salsa dancing. However they have no legal licensing umbrella because according to the government all forms of exercise are for men only. So the owners of these clubs get a license for a salon or a child activity center and then expand from there. Ultra conservatives are dead against these establishments because they believe that they lead Saudi women to sin through the influence of and interaction with unsavory feminist and sometimes they go as far as lesbian women who work there and frequent the clubs (according to the muttawa sexually repressed wild imagination). Moreover they believe that exercise goes against femininity and that it is an exclusively manly domain.
In the eighties and nineties there weren’t many of these sports clubs around and if one does open, the muttawas would camp outside its doors and harass the owner and workers until it closes down out of frustration. Then these muttawas would preach about the sins that they uncovered and led to their victory in closing the club.
Now that they are all over the place and extremely high in demand the muttawas logistically cannot take the same approach. So what they are doing is taking a top down approach through bureaucratic nonsense. And that is what I meant by their reaction being natural. I do not support the government in closing them down but I do believe that licensing should be done properly. What the ultra conservatives are doing is futile because its too little, too late. It’s the same thing over and over again with satellite TV, camera cell phones, music stores …etc. The general public demands them too much for these conservatives to be able to stop their spread. And now they are taking on womens sports clubs which will only lead them to be legalized and taken off the black market into the light, just like their other “sinful” predecessors.