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:


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 and On, 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


Filed under Culture, Informative, Regional and International


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
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


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:

Arabic Grammar
Home economics
Islamic jurisprudence
Arabic spelling
Islamic jurisprudence
Extracurricular activities
Prophet’s traditions
Quranic interpretation
Arabic reading
Quranic interpretation
Arabic Grammar
Arabic literature
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.


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.


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


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!


Filed under Gender Apartheid, Informative

Unemployment and those crazy numbers.

I’ve written about unemployment before here and here. The picture is just getting blearier. Saudi men are having trouble finding jobs with an unemployment rate of 10.5% and more than 449,000 open applications for government jobs in 2009. Compare that to 2008 in which the rate was 10% and the files 416,000 . As Abdulaziz Al Owashiq observed this is at a time when the economy is rising and yet the employment rate is going in the opposite direction. Another interesting observation of his is that the majority of those unemployed are those that should be the easiest to employ; 43% of the unemployed are between the ages of 20-24, 44% have at least a BA and 80% are single!

If that’s how bad it is for men can you imagine how tough it is for women? Now the numbers on women are so bad that the government won’t even acknowledge them.

Dr. Mona AlMunajjed in cooperation with Booz & Co did an extensive study on Saudi women unemployment rates and the reasons behind it. The report is in English and worth a read.  An Arabic summary of this was published in local newspapers. The article included the findings that 1000 women PhD holders are unemployed, and it was this that was put as a header and that seemingly offended the government the most. Two weeks later the Ministry of Labour’s spokesperson came out denying that there were any jobless PhD holders and demanding an apology which Booz & Co generously provided. Dr. Adel Al Salah conducted his own investigation and unsurprisingly found that Booz & Co and Dr. AlMunnajjed had nothing to apologize for and that their study was legitimate. But nothing gets the Saudis all prickly like the news that citizens might actually be unhappy, especially women. We’re all queens and sheltered jewels.

Watani is a news organization which for the most part disseminates information to cell phone subscribers within the Kingdom and has only recently started a website. This organization is ultra-conservative and sporadically sends interesting insider information that is rarely published in regular Saudi media. Recently they have sent some of their own crazy numbers. On Tuesday 1st of June they sent a cell phone text reporting that the Ministry of Civil Service received no less than 11 thousand applications with fake male names or just initials that turned out to be sent by Saudi women applying for jobs offered to men only.

When it comes to the reasons behind all these miserable numbers, multifaceted is an understatement. The private sector is not interested in Saudis and it’s hard to blame them. As a business owner, would you rather have imported cheap labor who will literally live for your business in a little room you provide and work day and night, or a Saudi who will demand at least double the pay and half the hours? And then of course the culture does little to help the situation. Hard work is not regarded highly by Saudi society. Young Saudis aspire and look up to heirs who wake up at noon with jobs that consist of spending a couple of hours in a luxurious wood-paneled office signing forms. There’s not much respect for police officers, firemen, nurses or even small business owners. Above all many Saudis suffer from entitlement syndrome; the countless number of times I’ve heard “I’m a Saudi from so and so tribe, I can’t just take any job.” And when it comes to Saudi women, it gets even funnier. Because many will only accept on two conditions, they can only work until noon and they have to be paid as though they have a full-time job. Moreover the environment has to be gender-segregated. So if you are private sector you have to rent two locations or two sets of offices, one for men and one for women, that is if you want to employ women. The only exception is hospitals, clinics and extremely rare and untouchable companies in the major cities.


Filed under Culture, Gender Apartheid, Informative, unemployment

Women driving cars…how do we start its implementation

Due to popular demand, I’ve translated the article I mentioned in The turning point post:

The difficult question of women driving was sparked by Afaf who felt oppressed and humiliated, after her driver left her alone and distraught in her car amid a busy street in the city of Riyadh. “Insulted in my country? .. Why should I have to stand helpless in a car I own, and paid for from my salary, while I have an international and well-deserved driving license from a neighboring country? Why can’t I start my car, on my own?”

Afaf’s Asian driver left her in the middle of the road on her way to work in the morning; simply because she criticized him. He turned off the car and threw her keys at her, and then stopped a taxi and got in, without heeding her appeals, or her pleas!

Riyadh newspaper carried Afaf’s question and presented it to specialists in human rights, sociology, Sharia law, and to traffic specialists as well. Each gave their views on how to begin the implementation of lifting the ban, even if only as an experiment. Sheikh Ahmed ibn Baaz’s opinion on this matter is that this is not a call for women to drive a car, those who do not want to drive have a right to refuse, but it is a call to give them dignity and the human rights and legitimacy given to them by Islam. Here are the details:

A Human Right

In the beginning, a researcher of Islamic affairs, and a member of the Human Rights Association, “Suhaila Zein al-Abidine” says that Islam does not forbid women their rights, and driving is a right. The Kingdom has already signed the international convention of non-discrimination against women, including the right of movement and transportation.
She said “There is no legitimate Islamic text that prohibits women from driving a car, we are a country that follows the teachings of Islam and knows very well that the basic principle of Islam is tolerance and permission, unless an issue is specifically deemed prohibited”, al-Abidine expressed astonishment at those frightened  of allowing women to drive, citing that they agreed to women working as teachers in remote locations, or servants behind closed doors, wondering “Why do they insist on our women remaining submissive and at the mercy of drivers, some of whom have a criminal history in their home country, or a psychiatric disorder, or moral and ideological issues “? .. She Cited an incident that took place when a previous driver abandoned her and her sister one evening in an area remote from where they live. He wanted to punish them just because their transportation needs conflicted with his plans!

She added that relying on drivers has moral, safety and economic risks that are much bigger than those posed if women were allowed to drive, so it is an issue of necessity, not a luxury, “especially in times of crisis,” citing an incident that the girl, Malak al Mutairi, a fifteen year old, who drove a GMC and saved her father, brother and eight families trapped by the floods of Jeddah, and so thank God for her ability to drive a car. No one punished Malak or admonished her for driving a car. On the contrary, she was honored by her school, as she was honored by the press, and celebrated by the officials.

A religious right

Many Sharia experts and shiekhs have declared their support for lifting the ban on women driving, especially after growing concerns regarding drivers and the consequences and problems of recruiting a man for each household. Sheikh Abdullah al Mutlaq, a professor of Comparative Jurisprudence and a former judge of the Court of Hail, made his view explicit on this subject in Okaz newspaper on June 4, 2009. He emphasized that there is no legitimate justification that prevents women from driving. He states that he is in the process of writing a study on the how-tos of lifting the ban in order to prevent the corruption caused by the recruitment of foreigners as drivers in Saudi society. Shiekh al Mutlaq calls for allowing women to drive soon, especially since women in the suburbs and villages have been driving for decades. No problems at all have been registered against these women of the villages who are driving. Actually they are appreciated by all for their courage and respect for the traffic system and laws. They’ve also shown that they abide by the laws much better than men. Al Mutlaq asserts that there are women who own cars in their own name. As foreign drivers have been noted to cause a lot of problems,  women driving could prevent these problems, especially since there is no prohibition or legitimate religious reason that prevents women from driving. Customs and traditions in our society should not prevent us at all. He also points out the need to launch an awareness campaign for young people to respect women who drive and as such to acclimatize everyone until it becomes a normal sight.

Legal right

The question is why is it illegal for women to drive if they have an international driving license?

The word of law is what is left since Islam does not prohibit women from driving. We took our question to the Legal Counsel, Bandar bin Ibrahim Al Muhrij and he replied saying that article thirty-two of the traffic laws states that “any person is prohibited from driving a vehicle before obtaining a driver’s license as is required in accordance with the provisions of this law”, and based on this text, the word “person” contained therein is not limited to the male without the female, indicating that the fact that driving licenses are issued exclusively to males is not supported by any document from the traffic system and its laws.

Sheikh Al Mutlaq: women driving to prevent the evils of recruiting drivers
A realistic look

As well as the publication of Sheikh Ahmed bin Baaz’s explicit opinion in Al Watan newspaper on January 15, 2010 in which he considered women driving an issue of rights and not an issue of priorities. Bin Baz also notes that preventing them from driving was thought to be virtuous in the past, however these considerations do not exist now nor can they be discussed or reconsidered. He added that the fear that women will be abused is not sufficient justification to prevent them from driving. Abuse is primarily a problem of security and education, and not a woman’s responsibility. Bin Baaz stressed that those who have millions and live in palaces with servants, entourages and numerous drivers may not be concerned with this issue. This issue is the main concern of women whose dignity suffers on the sidewalks bargaining with taxi drivers in order to get to school or work, or to a hospital for treatment or any type of need. Driving in this case is not a luxury as these women save every riyal to provide salaries for drivers, and have to build externally attached housing for drivers. And then these women have to go through an ordeal in order to obtain a visa for a driver to enter the country. In these cases lifting the ban is not a luxury.
How do we begin?
As a matter of following up on this issue Riyadh newspaper has gathered several proposals by specialists involved in setting the first practical step in allowing women to drive in the event it happens. One of which was what was presented by a sociology professor at the University of Imam Muhammad bin Saud, the Chairman of Saudi Society for Sociology and Social Work, Prof. Abdul Razak bin Hamoud Al-Zahrani. Prof. Al Zahrani expressed his deep conviction that the issue of women driving is a social issue that concerns each woman and each family in the community. And accordingly, he proposed in a previous study and proposes again here that a referendum in all parts of the Kingdom be held. The samples taken should be representative of all society. As such the views of the community about this issue then becomes a collective societal decision, whether society positively or negatively views the lifting of the ban. Thus any decision made would be appropriate and compatible with our community. Hence society would be the reference on this issue of a vital, delicate and controversial nature and which has been discussed frequently in the last two decades.

A tight plan

The district court judge in Riyadh, Sheikh Dr. Isa bin Abdullah Al Ghaith believes that women driving cars is not Islamically prohibited in and of itself but due to that it leads to other evils. He proposes that the ban not be directly and entirely lifted, at the same time he does not stubbornly close the door so that communication breaks down.

Prof. Al Ghaith proposes a practical and phased testing that is authorized and supervised by the government in which women would be allowed to drive cars within a coherent plan. This testing should be planned at a specifically selected time of day and for a set city that is chosen carefully. This experiment would then be observed closely by a range of sharia and legal experts, psychologists, social workers and security officials and others to control and adjust it quickly and flexibly. In the months following the experiment, these experts should prepare reports and submit their recommendations in this regard. In this way – according to prof. Al Ghaith we will be able to achieve the interests of our society, avoid the evils and close the door of excuses.  We shall be able to implement future laws regarding women driving on the basis of Islamic provisions, rules and purposes of legitimacy and leadership. In Prof Al Ghaith’s opinion there is now a “women driving phobia” which motivation is understood, however what is not understood is the justification behind the lack of dialogue and lack of practical experimentation on which to persuade advocates and opponents. Through the specialists recommendations common interests that we currently lack could be achieved and the current evils eliminated. In that case, we must abide by that commitment and affirm it, regardless of whether we decide to allow or ban driving. This approach will provide the reasoning needed by all and a general conviction will be gained by the community before the decision-maker. And thus decision makers will have followed the collective societal wishes in approving or banning women driving.

Recruit maids as drivers!
In another proposal by an education specialist who thinks that it might be better to allow foreign female domestic help to drive cars as a first step. In the specialist’s view this would significantly reduce the number of drivers recruited. Another option is that we allow the licensing of transportation companies who in their turn would recruit foreign women. At the same time there could be an intense awareness campaign directed to all segments of society about the acceptance of seeing a women behind the steering wheel.

Phases accompanied by security.

For his part, Nasser Al Oud, a professor of clinical social work at the department of sociology and social work at Imam University is of the opinion that the issue of women driving is a cultural issue (as a large number of intellectuals and scientists agree).  Hence legislating allowing women to drive must be done at the  appropriate time.  Those charged with the implementation of new laws must work on gradually introducing it. It is to be expected that the lift of the ban will be accompanied by a number of social obstacles, such as direct criticism of those who are driving and trying to influence male guardians through the use of social pressure (the family, community leaders ..). It should also be taken into account to first only allow driving in large and civilized cities and in neighborhoods and populated areas. At the same time security should be intensified by the authorities. At the beginning women drivers should be accompanied by their male guardians until the taboo starts to diminish. In the meantime, the male guardian would be there to provide security and prevent outsiders from asking the woman questions.

International experiences

Awatif Al Otaibi is a female employee who has an international driving license and has been driving abroad for the past 15 years. Al Otaibi points out that in other Arab countries there are no licensing laws that discriminate on the basis of gender, age, dress, or guardian’s consent, or the locations that driving will take place. She feels that stressing the adoption of such obstacles when a woman attempts to apply for a license only takes us away from the essence of the issue. Al Otaibi does not believe in the classification and the creation of a special law for women but rather that we should be more concerned about driving practices in general, so as to prevent complicating any further our current and pressing social need to lift the ban. From here Awatif affirms that change starts with one step, but we need to start from where others have ended, the experience of women driving and laws of neighboring Islamic countries have been shown to be a successful experiment that was initially fraught with obstacles and challenges. In these countries law were developed regardless of gender. Laws that govern all are what we need to get accustomed to, as we get back to the basics at this stage. National leaders that are educated and familiar with the global standards for women driving are capable of producing a sound vision and implementation that ensures that the respect and rights of women are taken very seriously, Otherwise any further delays and obstructions of this right will only lead to the further weakening of its social and intellectual status.

Strictness and awareness together

For his part, Prof. Abdullah al Kuaid, a researcher and writer with experience in traffic affairs, asserts the need to start allowing women to drive at this point, stressing that there is nothing to fear and that he understands that some might be wary of the possibility of women drivers being harassed, however, harassers,  as in all communities, are deterred by the threat of strict and swift  punishment. Prof. Al Kuaid points out that the repetition of raising the issue of women driving cars in our country does not lead to it losing its urgency or momentum as long as women are deprived of this right. He also addresses those who allege that currently there are more pressing issues and priorities; unfortunately, those that echoe this sentiment are not aware of the losses incurred by the nation through denying women the right to drive a car. From an economic point of view he notes the magnitude of the amount of money that is sent each year abroad by drivers besides the cost of bringing these people in, in addition to the public services that these workers expend and could have instead been provided to citizens. We should also consider the unpublicized social and moral problems which are caused by the employment of an unrelated man midst a family that does not share his culture, beliefs, customs or traditions. And to add insult to injury, many of these drivers are of poor skills and qualifications and are slow in the adoption of our traffic laws. Finally the threat that such large numbers of drivers are on the roads especially considering that each family employs at least one.


Filed under Informative, Women campaigns, Women driving

Some people never change

*PVPV stands for Commission for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue

These past few weeks it seems like a day doesn’t pass without a new muttawa blooper coming out. I call them bloopers because the muttawas always have an excuse even if it’s only an oops. These bloopers are becoming more and more frequent. It might be because of more press freedom or because average people are not putting up with it anymore. Whatever it is, muttawa bloopers are definitely not a new concept. An online Saudi newspaper recently published photos of 84 year old documents pertaining to citizens complaining about false arrests and harassment by PVPV members!

You don’t need to go back in time to witness how bad the PVPV can behave. One man in Madina has threatened that he will sue the PVPV for stopping him for two hours on a main street. He had his wife and his mother-in-law in the car with him. A few members of the PVPV were cruising around and apparently decided that the guy looked suspicious so they stopped him even though it is illegal for them to stop people without having an accompanying police officer. The guy refused to neither open his door nor give them evidence as to how the two women are related to him until the police arrived. And so he says that he will sue them for 2 million riyals for stopping him on baseless grounds for two hours and tainting his reputation.

Another man, Mohammed Sultan, also had his wife and mother-in-law in the car with him. He had stopped at a restaurant to pick up some breakfast when a couple of PVPV members demanded that he provide them with his identification papers. He says that he insisted that the police be present and when he started to call the police on his cell phone, they beat him up. Half an hour later the police arrived after the PVPV members called them themselves. They had made such a big deal in their call that five police cars arrived at the scene. The poor guy was taken in and the PVPV pair claimed that they stopped him because he was wearing his pants low (rapper style), even though witnesses at the scene say that Sultan acted and was dressed respectfully.

But the craziest and scariest bloopers are those that happen when a woman is unlucky enough to collide with the PVPV. A couple of days ago, an unrelated young Saudi couple were caught during their rendezvous. The PVPV member directed the police officer to take the young man into custody while he took the girl in his personal car! He disappeared with her in his custudy for an hour and a half and when finally the PVPV member brought the girl in, she informed the officials he had taken her to an isolated area to lecture and advise her. What’s funny is that the PVPV member committed the exact same “crime” of khilwa (spending time alone with an unrelated woman) that he was accusing the couple of.

On a more serious note, last week a young woman was caught by PVPV members in Tabuk because she was trying to get to Jeddah without her guardian’s approval. They illegally took her to the PVPV center without reporting the issue to the police and then locked the doors to the building. The young woman claims that they beat her and were insisting that she had something hidden in her clothes. She also says that they were trying to tie her up when help came. Luckily it was prayer time in a mosque nearby and men there heard her screams and called the police when they found the building locked. The PVPV spokesperson, Mohammed al Zobaidi, gives a completely different account of the events. He claims the woman’s injuries were self-inflected because she probably thought that that was a way out and that it was the PVPV who called the police and not the people at the mosque.

I’m not the only one noticing the increasing frequency of muttawa blooper coverage, at a recent PVPV conference which last few papers I attended, most of the speakers commented on this bad publicity. Unfortunately they did not think of it as an opportunity to reflect on their practices but rather faulted the media. Some even thought the ministry of information should punish editors who allow negative PVPV articles. And this might be why an unidentified someone took it upon himself to shoot at the liberal Watan newspaper building in Abha. Some people never change.


Filed under Informative, Injustice