Category Archives: Informative

The Commision for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices

I was pretty busy this past two months. But no matter how busy I get I cannot pass up a PVPV commission headline and these two months were full of those. First let me update you on the guy, AttaAllah Al Rasheedi,  who was stabbed twice by a PVPV member for not ordering his wife to cover her eyes. Seventeen days after he was admitted to the hospital he was taken into custody and imprisoned for 28 days. Outrageous I know but not unexpected especially coming from the same people who wanted to imprison and whip a rape victim. It turns out that the unnamed PVPV  member, 20 days after the incident obtained a medical report that states that his nose was broken and thus the case has now changed from assault to altercation, conveniently removing Al Rasheedi from his previous victim stance. And so now the judge after releasing him gave him the parting gift of a sentence of 30 lashes across the back for “strolling amid women” regardless of the fact that it was not a gender segregated mall and that he was accompanying his wife. Al Rasheedi is a soldier in the National Guard and obviously his training has had an influence on his spirit because the guy just won’t back down. Now he is appealing the 30 lashes ruling and he plans to take to court the sheikhs who spoke badly about his character in their Friday sermons. He also plans to object to his 28 day imprisonment.

On the other hand, the likelihood of his success is not promising. The Qatif girl could not get anything from our courts and her only salvation was a royal pardon from the King himself. No PVPV member was charged for the 2007 murder of Sulaiman Al Huraisy, a 28 year old man accused by the PVPV of making and selling alcohol. He was taken to one of their centers for questioning and then beaten. According to the postmortem he lost his right eye, he had a 6 cm break in his skull and he had no traces of alcohol in his system. His family tried to appeal the case too.

Even PVPV members aren’t immune once they step out of the ultra-conservative mold. Shiekh Dr. Ahmed Al Ghamdi, the head of the Makkah PVPV division is hated by the ultra conservative community because he says that women can uncover their faces and there is no gender segregation in Islam. They tried to get him removed but couldn’t. So instead they decided to marginalize him by not inviting him to their meetings, and showing his sons no mercy. One of his sons was involved in what was originally reported as defending his house when a group of men tried to break in to “mingle” with Al Ghamdi’s wife and daughters. However the whole incident magically changed into an altercation about car parking and Al Gamdi’s son was sentenced with 50 lashes. It’s also been going around that the same son or another was fired from his position in the PVPV.   Then the Al Ghamdi tribe issued a statement that they are innocent of Dr. Al Ghamdi and his unGodly opinions.

Finally last week, it was reported that a barefoot young woman was seen running across a major street in Riyadh while being chased by two PVPV cruisers. According to the PVPV they had spotted her in a taxi flirting and exposing herself. Note that “exposing herself” does not necessarily mean nudity according to their standards because to them even regular clothes without an abaya is exposure. They did not elaborate on what it was that she was doing or what she exposed except that it was immoral. Eye witnesses say that she was running crying and begging people in their cars to help her. Eventually the PVPV caught her and took her to a holding center for women and girls until her family picked her up from there a few hours later.

And if you would like to read a first hand account of a PVPV incident, I highly recommend this post from fellow blogger Omaima Al Najjar.

For all their trouble the PVPV were rewarded with a whole fleet of new cruisers, six hundred in Riyadh alone. And these cruisers are all linked to a control center and are all outfitted with what looks like a scanner/printer/fax machine. Don’t ask me what a patrol car would need those for! They are very proud of their high tech new look and equipment and posted these photos on their website at this link:

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Filed under Informative, Injustice

Online Activism in the Middle East

On Saturday the Libyan president (41 years in the presidential office and counting), Muammar al-Gaddafi, came out on Libyan TV to give one of his rambling speeches but this time it was worth listening to. He expressed what a lot of Arab leaders are probably feeling towards the revolution in Tunisia; fear. More importantly by speaking dismissively about Wikileaks, Facebook and Youtube, he gave them the credit they deserve.

Online activism in the Middle East is reminiscent of the printing press revolution in Europe. At the time European dictators were unable to get ahead of the spread of information but by the time these tools got to the Arab world, political leaders already knew how to keep a handle on things.

Now with technology, regular citizens are again ahead of the game. When I was growing up in Saudi, people were paranoid about being overheard complaining. Little kids had this ingrained in them and were told that “they” can hear you through the electricity outlets in the walls and that those nice neighbors next door are spies for “them”. People did not talk to each other and they did not complain because stories and rumors abound about some distant relative or acquaintance mysteriously and forever disappearing and about dark dungeons in palace basements.

Never before the internet could everyone and anyone who cares have gotten their hands on the piece that got Dr. Al-Abdulkareem imprisoned indefinitely and without trial. Nor could they have expressed their support in such huge numbers online that the government becomes powerless in quieting them.

What Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Youtube…etc do in the Middle East is that they confirm our hunch that our fellow citizens feel the same way. And this alone is a powerful realization, and now we’ve taken it a step further by connecting, forming online groups and contacts that occasionally develop into real meetings and groups on the ground. The division and isolation that was upheld and so valuable to Arab leaders has now become a thing of the past. And now Arab governments are struggling to get back in control but so far they only sink deeper. Like when Dr. Abdulkareem published his piece on his Facebook page, he was shortly later detained. If it weren’t for his detention, not many people would have read what he wrote. Only those politically involved would have sought it out, but after the widely shared news of his imprisonment, everyone wanted to know what it was that he wrote. It was Emailed, BBMed, and printed out and shared with those of us who aren’t online. So the government’s traditional approach actually caused the piece to become more widespread and for the offending writer to gain supporters in the thousands.

This is just the beginning, and we will soon outgrow the current online tools. Activist journalism is now catching on. People can no longer tolerate just being aware of what’s going on, they need to be able to do something about it. Right now the “happening” thing is petitions such as on Change.org and Avaaz.org. On Change.org, anyone can write up a petition about an issue they care about, and if it concerns an American politician there’s a drop down menu where you can click their name and automatically get it sent to their Email inbox. If it’s international, the writer has to find the Email address of the targeted politician for themselves. It’s a fantastic tool and it would be empowering if we could have a similar kind of website made by people of the Middle East and in Arabic. Even better, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information could have taken up such a project instead of their flailing attempts at controlling the Saudi online community. To give citizens that kind of access and outlet where they can petition their issues online would help a lot in letting out the average citizen’s frustrations. It would be like a national council where every citizen is a member with a platform.

The only way anyone in this region is going to remain in power, is by adapting to this new internet age rather than sticking to the traditional methods of suppression; more transparency, more freedom of speech and above all more power to the people.

Recommended reading:

Tweeting Tyrants Out of Tunisia: Global Internet at Its Best

Reflecting On 2011 – The Year Online Organizers Got Real

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Filed under Culture, Informative, Regional and International

Imprisoned

Samar Badawi, a 29 year old divorced mother who was imprisoned for 7 months for not listening to her legal guardian (her father), has been released today into the custody of her uncle. Her cause was courageously taken up by Fouad Al Farhan on Twitter under #Samar. The full story was covered by fellow bloggers Hala Al Dosari and Ahmed Al Omran and Financial Times correspondent Abeer Allam. Now that the nightmare is over for Samar, I wonder how many more people are in prison indefinitely at the mercy of one of our all-powerful judges’ whims.

Mikhlif Al Shammary whose plight was published in detail by HRW in English and Arabic. I highly recommend reading the report. The accusation against him is “annoying others”.  He was taken into custody on the 14th of June and is still in prison to this day. This is a letter he sent out for help:

To: director
Commission of Hum.Rights
Geneva,
Switzerland
Dear,
Please protect my rights and demand from  saudi gov. to release me . I am Mukhlif bin Daham Al-shammary 57 Male saudi natiomality. Well known as HR defender .Due to my activities in HR and fighting discrimination against Women,Expatriates and religion minorties as well as my online articals calling for peace between Sunni and Shiaa muslims ,and condmn radical  religous. So,gov.arrested me on June 14,2010 they charge me of(Annoying others)
The Court reject the case ,but i still in jail .
HRW,Front line defender and Corresp.accross borders call for my release ,but no response.
Mr.Christopher Wilcke and Sarah Leah whitson in HRW have history of my story and problems that face me and my family.
When Ms.Naivi Bailly vist Saudi Arabia,I met  here team members and gave them my observation on HR status in the Kingdom.
No good food ,no madical care and they put me with Criminals snme have deangrous deseads like Aids,phthisis and liver deseases.
I need urgent treatmdnt and psychotherapy assistance.
I wrote this E:mail using mobile phone i buy it from one presoner.
Kindly i requsted your honor to persuade my gov. to release me soon since i have not broken any law and protect my physical and mintal safty, and respect its promises to UN and international body. I need freedom of expression and safe inviroment to do my job to protect HR in my country,
I have critical situation ,please do not hisitate to act soon if you think i deserve your support, after you necessary invistegation.
Sincerely yours
Mukhlif bin Daham Al – shammary
Dammam Jail,
Saudi  Arabia

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Filed under Freedom of speech, Informative, Injustice

Education in KSA

Two areas that ultra-conservatives have a stronghold on in Saudi are the judicial system and the education sector. These ultra-conservatives do not pay much heed towards the banking sector, healthcare, commerce and all other areas. But when it comes to our courts and our schools, they just won’t budge. In this post I’m going address  the education sector and their control over it.

This control goes way back to 1960 when it was decided that girls will be allowed to get an education. Men from all over but mainly from Qaseem travelled to the capital to express their opposition even though the girl schools were completely gender segregated and had a separate administrative body overseeing it from the education ministry overseeing the boys’ schools. Throughout the years, the ministers of girls’ education were overwhelmingly long-bearded muttawas and the whole ministry favored employing people who were religiously conservative. Those were the days when mirrors were banned from bathrooms, and uniforms that define the waist or have a belt were against the rules even for teachers. All our beautiful little girls were dressed in bland gray or brown cloth cut into the shape of your grandma’s full-length and long-sleeved house dress. If they cut their hair too short they were punished, and if they styled or let their long hair down they were punished. Stories about principals putting Vaseline in girls’ hair as punishment abound.

Around 1974, the idea that elementary schools would not be gender –segregated was floated around. At that time Shiekh Bin Baz and Sheikh Bin Othaimeen were the most prominent religious leaders. A news organization recently unearthed correspondence that is alleged to be between the two sheikhs in which they were conspiring on how to stop the sinful mixing of boys and girls in elementary schools. Scans of the handwritten letters are also shown in the report.

The country’s concession to the religious establishment’s control over girls’ education stayed pretty much the same through out the 1980s and 1990s. Things changed on the 11th of March 2002, but only after 15 girls died in a fire after the PVPV obstructed the entrance to the school. The PVPV did not let out students who weren’t covered and did not allow the civil defense to enter the school. HRW and BBC Reports of the incident.

The separate ministry responsible for girls’ education was absolved and the administration of girls’ schools was put under the care of the main education ministry that was already overseeing the boys’ schools. How has this changed things on the ground? Not much. Most girl schools are locked during school hours. Physical education is still banned for girls. Subjects are still gender-specific, so that there’s a different science book for girls than the one for boys and so on for all subjects. Some of the things that have changed are the uniforms. For the past three years, elementary girls wear a plain white or striped blouse with a sleeveless gray overdress and the same for older girls except that the dress is navy. Both have defined waists.  It’s an improvement.

The biggest changes are that since last year, principals are given the freedom to choose to allow boys from first to third grade, on the condition that classes would be segregated. The point being that boys at this young age would be better off taught by female teachers and to open up more positions in the education sector for unemployed women. This gender mixing of course is being fought by the religious establishment just like in 1974. Shiekh Yousef Al Ahmed escorted a band of muttawas to object this decision at one of the education ministry offices. A judge published a piece on a hypothetical  situation where a first grade boy is so attracted to his teachers that he flunks on purpose to stay in the girls’ school for as long as possible. Then 20 years later he still can’t stop thinking about them so he finds and hooks up online with one of his elementary teachers resulting in her divorce. In their minds this is not at all far-fetched.

So what’s a typical school day in a Saudi girls’ public school? The day starts with assembly at 6:45 am. First class starts at 7 and the school day ends at 12:30 pm. This is a school schedule for an 8th grade class:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
Sat
History
Science
Geography
English
Arabic Grammar
Home economics
Sun
English
Science
Islamic jurisprudence
Arabic spelling
Math
Monotheism
Geography
Mon
Islamic jurisprudence
Art
Extracurricular activities
Math
Science
Quran
Tues
Math
Prophet’s traditions
Quranic interpretation
Science
English
Monotheism
Arabic reading
Wed
Quranic interpretation
Arabic Grammar
History
Arabic literature
English
Math
Arabic writing

As you can see, about a quarter of the time a student is at school, she is learning religion. All that time learning religion and morals and yet our whole society has a culture of unofficially and officially policing each other otherwise we would go wild. After all that religious teaching and our students can’t even Islamically behave in malls so men are banned from entering them without their families because before the ban many harassed and chased women shoppers. Women can’t walk in the streets fully covered head to toe without being harassed. Work ethics, honesty and abiding laws are not widely practiced concepts.  So what’s the point of all those religious classes if they don’t translate into a moral society?

And then there’s all this hoopla about the improvements in the science and math curriculums and that they are comparable to international standards. Let me show you third grade science books. These are the main spreads from the first lesson of each book:

The Saudi textbook is 145 pages. Most pages only have a few sentences. The American textbook is 495 pages, has a glossary, index, many experiments and most pages contain several paragraphs.

Lastly, there’s the teachers. In all the schools I’ve been in, here in Riyadh and Tabuk, they averaged 30 students per class. Teachers could be given a maximum of 24 periods per week. So if you are a history teacher and each class has two periods, then it’s possible that you would be asked to teach 12 different classrooms. And at 30 students per class, that’s 360 students. That’s quite a feat for a schoolteacher. The workload is only one aspect of  how things are. The female teachers I’ve talked to, also complain about not having any health insurance, about being locked up during school hours and having to convince the principal before being allowed to leave and about gender discrimination when it comes to how pensions are paid out.

I know that the current ministry has big plans for education but they also have mountainous challenges. The religious establishment having had control for so long, their people are in almost every office, dragging their feet against anything that even smells western. The current teaching staff is a product of the very same system and has not known any other, getting them to change would be a miracle. Miracles have been known to happen. ..Right now praying for one, is the only thing I can do.

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Filed under Culture, Education, Gender Apartheid, Informative

Wife-tracker revisited

In my last post I wrote about how guardians receive SMS notifications if their dependants leave or enter the country. Dependents in Saudi Arabia are defined as anyone on a man’s family card, including wife and adult daughters. A few years ago only men were allowed to have individual national ID cards once they turned 16. Women had to rely on being listed by name and number only on a man’s family card. The only way to have a photo ID for a woman is to get a passport. But that didn’t matter too much because the family card was accepted everywhere including banks, hospitals and courts. No need and requirement for a photo ID resulted in a lot of men abusing the system in several ways. Cases where men have another woman pose as his wife, daughter or even sister to get access to benefits or harm female relatives were common. This has changed since it is currently an absolute requirement that every high school student, boy or girl, has to have a national ID card before graduating. Of course this was initially fought by the muttawas who even suggested having a fingerprint where the face photo should be, anything to avoid a woman’s face being shown and on record.

Despite women having their own individual ID cards with a photo, they are still listed on a man’s family card as a dependant, regardless of age or income. And that’s where the SMS notification comes into play. As a male guardian you can sign up for an E-service through your bank account to get notifications of any governmental transaction or change. Currently I know that SAMBA bank offers it, and other banks are signing on as well. This service is offered to banks not directly from the government but through a “middle-man” information security company, Al-Elm. The list of the type of information that they send is here. You’ll notice that the dependant leaving and arriving is the fourth and fifth from the bottom.

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Filed under Eman, Gender Apartheid, Informative, Uncategorized

The Origins of Saudi-American Relations

My father just finished his book. It’s published by the Arab Scientific Publishers and this is what it’s about:

It’s a real labour of love. As he had spent extensive time at the Public British Records in London, The National Archives in Washington D.C. and King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives in Riyadh. He brings a unique perspective to the table, with an American PhD degree in Political Science, his Saudi military experience as a retired Major General and a son of a man who fought in the Saudi army to establish the borders of Saudi Arabia.

As you can see from the above synopsis the book’s focus is the basis of the ‘special relationship’ between Saudi Arabia and the United States. However what I found most intriguing was the secondary topics (but essential to the main); on how Saudi Arabia came to be, the dynamics between the Royal family and the muttawas and how both compromised to achieve our current situation and how the Palestinian-Israel conflict influenced the British-Saudi relations. Here are some interesting extracts to illustrate:

On German-Saudi relation:

“From the German side, the main motive behind their change of position towards Saudi Arabia in 1939 appeared to be the need to find an ally in this region. They needed to promote their diplomatic position, especially because they could not depend on Iraq in the event of war and that their minister in Baghdad had been ousted.17 The Germans hoped to use Saudi Arabia as a base for spreading their propaganda against the British position in the Middle East in the event of war. The Germans, in view of the country’s potential for development, also thought it would be advisable to establish and develop their economic ties with Saudi Arabia.18 The Ministry of Economics expressed the desire for Germany’s Minister to Baghdad to be accredited to Ibn Saud because it would then be easier to obtain precise information about the economic and commercial possibilities for Germany. The German appetite for Saudi economic potential was not new. When Amir Faisal, then Viceroy of the Hijaz, visited Germany from 20-24 May 1932, the Berlin press, in general, pleasantly reported his visit, the DEUTSCHE DIPLOMATISCHE POLITISCHE KORRESPONDENZ commented editorially, saying:

Germany greets Viceroy Faisal as the representative of a country with which it has been bound by a treaty of Friendship since 1929. The Kingdom of Ibn Saud is of great importance as regards both politics and culture. It comprises vast territories which await their development. And it can well be considered that the wish of King Ibn Saud for stronger friendly relations between the two States, in which Germany is especially interested, will undoubtedly be instrumental in advancing Germany’s commercial relations with Hijaz.19

On the Ikhwan (muttawa):

“The mid‑1930s marked the beginning of serious attempts toward the modernization in Arabia. Telephone and telegraphic communications were set up, and automobiles and other western technological innovations were imported in increasing numbers. These developments seemed to widen the gap between the Ikhwan and the King. The former resisted change by cutting communications wires and even attacking the users of foreign equipment. Such inventions, from their perspective, could only be the work of the devil. For a time the moderate King tolerated such activities, hoping to exercise persuasion over the Ikhwan in the long run.61 This proved to be a vain hope. By 1927, the Ikhwan were on the verge of open revolt. They opposed many aspects of the King’s policy. They were critical of him for sending his sons into the lands of the infidels, e.g., England and Egypt. They attacked him for employing motor vehicles, telegraphs and telephones. They criticized him for levying taxes and for following other policies they considered un‑Islamic.62

On Yemen:

“In fact, reading the Taif Treaty of 1934, one can realize why King Ibn Saud did not absorb Yemen and welcomed the mediation. In a ‘Green Book’ issued in 1934 by the Saudi government explaining the nature of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Yemen, Ibn Saud stated that he had never intended to occupy Yemen, that his only desire was to conclude a frontier agreement between the two countries in order to avoid problems which might be exploited by foreign powers to penetrate the region. He never thought of setting up an empire or of expanding his dominion to other Arab countries. He knew well that winning the military campaign was not sufficient for an effective expansion. Ibn Saud realized the nature of the people of Yemen, their history, their religious sects and the difficult geographic nature of their country. He knew that all those who had invaded Yemen throughout history had suffered heavily because the people of Yemen had never abandoned their beliefs in the face of a conqueror.33

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Filed under Eman, Informative, Regional and International

Heila Al Qusayer

The fight against terrorism in Saudi Arabia is taken very seriously and hundreds of terrorists have been caught. Last March 113 members of sleeper cells were arrested. The Saudi media at the time did not focus much on who these people were, until June 3rd when the head of Al Qaeda in Yemen, Saeed Al Shihri threatened to assassinate members of the royal family and government officials if Heila Al Qusayer is not freed. Heila is a 36 year old Saudi woman from a respectable and upper middle class family from the Qaseem region. In March she was apprehended by the Saudi secret services at the home of another terrorist. However the government has a policy of respecting the privacy of women terrorists so not much was known about her before the Qaeda demands. But when Al Shihri showed how desperate Al Qaeda is for her release, people became curious.

Heila grew up in Qasseem and obtained a BA degree in geography. During her time in college something drew her into extremism and she eventually ended up married to an influential extremist who also was much older than her. Her first husband, Abdulkareem Al Humaid, is a former ARAMCO employee. He quit his job and lived a life of  complete extremist Puritanism, no electricity, cars or any other modern invention. It’s rumoured that he didn’t even use paper money. Due to his preaching of Islamic fundamentalism he was arrested and imprisoned to this day. From prison, he divorced Heila and advised a former student of his, Mohammed Al Wakael to marry her. They married and during her pregnancy with her now 5 year old daughter, Al Wakael was shot down by the Saudi Special Forces. Since his death Heila’s activities intensified. She would go around proselytizing Al Qaeda’s version of Islam. She managed to collect substantial sums of money under the pretense of building mosques and helping orphans. She is documented to have transferred 650,000 dollars to Al Qaeda. She uses women to recruit men to the cause. The terrorist’s home that she was found in was actually a moderate Muslim who was changed by Heila after she became close to his wife. Sixty Qaeda members took orders from her and she arranged safe houses for hiding.

The use of women to recruit men has become a noticeable trend. Three factors are creating this phenomenon; the enormous percentage of unemployed women who are a product of our borderline extremist education system, their access to the internet and the fact that 83% of all Saudis are under the age of 39. Although they might not be out fighting and bombing, they are doing something just as sinister by spreading the ideology online and recruiting the men in their families. Before Heila, this was going on relatively undetected and even those that are caught are treated as victims rather than as perpetrators. A point made by Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh in her widely read article. She is unimpressed by how these terrorist women are portrayed in the media.  As an example she gives Sheikh Al Swailim’s interview regarding Heila. Sheikh Al Swailim is on the counseling committee. He meets with caught terrorists and tries to convince them that their ideology is wrong. When he was asked about Heila he referred to her as “sister Heila, a very simple woman who was stressed and revengeful after the killing of her second husband”. Sheikh Al Swailim went on to say that he found her quite “rational” in her argument and that the “poor woman” is “uneducated” and here Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh points out how could she be uneducated when she has a BA? Sheikh Al Swailim claims that Heila only after a 90 minute conversation became remorseful and Ms. Hessa Al Sheikh remarks that’s not counseling, that’s magic! And then she moves on to Prof. Al Saeedi, who was on the same show that sheikh Al Swailim was on, he is of the view that Heila is not important but only an “exploited” woman who the media is using to draw our attention away from Gaza and the flotilla. Another guest on that show, Sheikh Al Maliki, had the audacity to claim that some of these terrorists are actually agents from the West and that they are working under the umbrella of foreign countries and embassies to defeat our country.

Fortunately some good did come out of the capture of Heila Al Qusayer. She provided the government sensitive information about Al Qaeda and just by being, she shows us how big a threat women of her mindset are. Now the Ministry of Islamic Affairs is looking into regulating those that call themselves dayia (Islamic missionary), a title that Heila used to get access to social circles.

On a lighter note, one of the articles I read on Heila’s capture had a commenter asking how was she identified and that he hoped that they did not resort to uncovering her face. As if that was all that mattered, that a Muslim woman’s face remains covered!

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Filed under Gender Apartheid, Informative