August 26, 2009 · 9:50 pm
There is nothing that gets the Saudi government to act like shining the western media spotlight on it. Once the spotlight dims, things usually go back to the way they were. A while back there was all this attention about who I call the child bride of Onaiza, and accordingly the marriage never took place and a huge discussion of plans for laws regulating marital age for both girls and boys were thrown around. Shiekhs were consulted, government officials made statements and proposals. Once the topic stopped coming up abroad, things pretty much went back to where they were. That’s why it would be fantastic if the international media picked up the story published today in Arab News about a 10 year old girl being handed over to an 80 year old man by none other than her own father. She ran away and sought refuge at her aunt’s house but her father managed to take her back to her husband. The 80 year old claims that he originally asked for her older sister but she refused so the father offered the poor 10 year old instead and the geezer took him up on it.
Maybe media attention so soon within this short span of time could be just what we need to firmly set up laws to protect these girls.
August 20, 2009 · 2:12 am
If you read anything related to Saudi Arabia or have a conversation with someone living there, inevitably this remark comes up”but change is coming soon”. Well from my perspective, it’s just not true. Short of an outright war or a western invasion, women will never get their rights. I remember a Bahraini friend of mine telling me how her grandfather respected her grandmother because he was influenced by the British. Sometimes the thought that we would actually be better off if we were colonized in the late 1800s and early 1900s like our neighbors creeps into my head.
The muttawa way of life, in which everything that brings a smile to your face is HARAM (prohibited), is integrated into the very heart of our society. Music, plays, festivals even when they are segregated are strongly discouraged. And the prohibition is only related to doing it in public. It is a fact that most Saudis do not practice what they preach. Get on any plane leaving the country and witness it for yourself. Abayas come off and men and women become much more relaxed. Women are pressured and brain-washed into living the way they do. But why do men live the way they do, when for many it is obvious that they would rather be more relaxed with their families and have their wives drive their own cars…etc.
International tourism was not affected by H1N1 or the economy in Saudi Arabia. Strangely enough, more and more Saudis are leaving the country each year for a vacation. I know one woman who actually took a loan from the bank just to treat herself and her family to a trip to France. Another woman in her sixties, never had a passport until two years ago and ever since all she talks about is where she’s going and where she’s been for the summer. Just a week ago, there was no traffic in Riyadh! And I could get an appointment at my favourite hairdresser on the same day! Usually it takes at least two weeks advance planning. Everyone was outside the country.
And then they come back to another year-long round of pretending that they agree that everything should be prohibited. I think that what goes through their heads is something in the vein of “well I can handle all this freedom because I’m a responsible person but my fellow citizens need to be treated like caged animals, otherwise they’ll go crazy”. By crazy they mean things like convert to another religion, openly announce their homosexuality, walk around in revealing clothes and/or promote someone that has no blood relation to them.
But these things have not happened in any of our surrounding countries. Why can’t they see that a little freedom does not mean Hollywood?!
July 12, 2009 · 9:18 am
Right now is the time of the year when many households in Saudi Arabia are worrying about their high school graduates getting into a good college. Recently the system has gone through a few changes. In the 80s and 90s it was rather stable especially the girls’ high schools. The boys on the other hand had some variety of choice in experimental schools where the education ministry would try out new systems before implementing them nation-wide.
To get into college, you have to have a high grade which is done in percentage. Each subject is given a score of 100, 50 points for each semester and grades for each subject are added up and divided by the number of subjects. It’s a little bit more complicated than that with marks for attendance and good behavior factoring in. Until recently, only the marks that students got in the final year of high school were taken into account by college administrations. That has proven too stressful for many students and has been a reason for many others to slack off the first two years of high school. So now the system has changed so that the whole three years are considered and the final average point is taken from the marks of all the years spent in high school.
Another new big change is the standardized exams given right after high school. This is one centralized system across Saudi Arabia which administers the exams to all high school graduates each year. An advantage of this new system is that students no longer have to apply to each college in person. All they have to do is take the standardized exam and then after a couple of weeks log onto a website managed by the ministry of higher education and make their choice of major. The system then matches up students with the appropriate college. However this is only for government universities. Students who are interested in private universities have to apply there in person and take other exams that are unique to each private university. The majority of Saudis prefer government run universities because not only are they free (no tuition) but also students get a monthly stipend just for attending. The stipend varies from about 200 dollars up to 400 dollars per month depending on the student’s major. Humanties and arts get the lower end and science and technology the higher end.
The summer that a Saudi graduates from high school is for many a stressful time what with new changes almost every year and worrying about whether or not they are able to find a placement at a local university. Without a college education, there aren’t many jobs to choose from and so the majority do go on to college. Parents at this time frantically set up fall back plans such as finding someone big to get their rejected child into university, or finding the means to send them to a private university. Some even go as far as to apply to colleges in other towns and cities to expand the likelihood of getting a placement. And in the latter case, if it’s a daughter, family members actually take time off from work to accompany her or for the unlucky ladies pay for a prison like dormitory to take her in.
It’s a time of year when it is polite to call up acquaintances that have kids graduating from high school and ask them how are they coping. And have they been able to get acceptance for their son or daughter?
July 1, 2009 · 1:06 am
Yesterday Riyadh Newspaper carried a story about a couple. Their relationship ended horribly when the guy blackmailed the girl into meeting him on a secluded roof. Only she came with a bottle of acid. She agreed that he would be there first waiting for her and when she got there he had already gotten down to his undies in anticipation but what he got was acid poured on his pelvic area. Unfortunately she was unable to get away before he had wrestled the acid from her and attacked her with it. They both started screaming in pain but no one came so they somehow managed to get down and run into the street where some civilians took them to the hospital. They were found to have 40% third degree burns and put in ICU.
What the guy was using to blackmail the girl was not mentioned in the article. However I’m betting that it was something relatively trivial like a photo with her face uncovered all dressed up to go to a party or maybe it was a tape recording of an illicit phone conversation, something that would not really be substantial enough to blackmail a single Muslim girl into sex anywhere else in the world except Saudi Arabia. What with so much being forbidden and our culture of shame one, shame the whole family, the stakes are so high. A girl who lets her guard down for a second sometimes will have to spend her whole life paying for it. I remember a friend of mine who was really smart and graduated from high school with a 98% and got accepted into the computer science department at King Saud University. Only she had the bad habit of making phone boyfriends during her years in high school, so her parents forced her the summer she graduated high school to marry a distant cousin who also happens to be a school drop out just so ‘yistir aliyha’, an Arabic term that means to cover her or to shield her from people’s talk. I visited her after she settled down and she told me that she had saved the bedsheet she lost her virginity to her husband on. I asked her why? She said it was like a keepsake but I believe it’s more than that. It’s her proof. Within a year she had a baby and we lost touch but I heard that she had many more babies and I don’t know if she ever got the chance to go to college. All because she liked to talk to guys over the phone. Granted that is a problem on a religious level but if it was only religion, her parents would have not taken such extremes to cure her of it. If this daughter got a reputation that she talks to guys, she would not only ruin her prospects of marriage, but that of her sisters. Hence her parents were sacrificing her for the sake of the family. It’s complicated with centuries and layers of tradition and culture and I’m not sure I personally want it to change but it would be nice if they would ease up a little on the girls so that they wouldn’t have to tote bottles of acid every time an innocent photo gets out.
April 7, 2009 · 10:12 pm
No matter how many reports you read about the rise in numbers of divorce cases in Saudi Arabia, it still remains a dirty word that Saudis are taught not to even contemplate. For my generation and those younger, there is a growing number who rebel. But for older couples it is still very true. No matter how much they hate each other, divorce is not an option. “Real” men and women never divorce. We are taught in schools that it is the most abhorred by God of all things Islamically permitted. Couples have separate bedrooms on different floors and lead chiefly separate lives and yet are still married. A man might take on a second wife and not see his first except twice a month to pay the bills and buy groceries. He does it because he thinks its manly and the woman stays on and is patient because that’s what a good woman does.
This like all other things is changing. After reading a report on this in Arab News, I thought I would write a bit about it. In Saudi Arabia there are two ways to obtain a divorce depending on who initiates it, the first is easy and can be done by the husband and the second is extremely hard and is reserved for the wife. The first can be done by the husband simply by deciding in his heart to divorce his wife and in effect this becomes valid immediately. Then in his own time he can go to the courts and obtain a document of his decision and send a copy to the ex-wife. Alimony and child custody is not a big deal either and definitely not mandated. Several women I personally know have never gotten any financial support from their ex-husbands. And in the case they are allowed child custody, its only because the father is not interested in caring for the kids. So in essence he is allowing the mother to have them. This and most other issues related to family law is only loosely based on Islam and what really goes on is the absolute vilification of the wife in court while the husband is always taken at his word. I know you might be thinking that I’m exaggerating but seriously I’m not.
When it comes to the wife initiating a divorce it is a whole different issue. It’s not even called divorce, it’s called khula which literally means taking off as in taking off clothes or jewelry. What the woman has to do is prove that the husband did something. Abuse whether physical or verbal does not get a woman far in court even with a medical report because the Saudi judges tend to believe that she probably did something to provoke it. The only proof that will absolve the woman and get her treated favorably is one of three; proof that the husband is a drug addict, has AIDS or being a daughter of a VIP. Otherwise the process is stressful, expensive and might lead to her never seeing her children again. In one case the judge and his assistants demanded from the wife that she detail her husband’s performance in bed. Another woman had to pay her dowry back in full after more than a decade of marriage and four children. Some of those years she financially supported her then husband and yet she still had to give back the money he spent on her as a young bride and give up child custody completely. To rub salt into injury, she was hushed in court while listening to the guy tell everyone there including her father and brothers how horny she was and that she wouldn’t be doing this unless she had someone else in mind to marry.
However after everything settles down, within society it is much better for a woman to obtain a khula rather than be divorced. Divorced women are usually viewed as having done something wrong but a woman who obtains a khula is a victim. It’s as if society understands that the difficulty of the process shows in some way that women do not go through with it except as a last resort after being tremendously wronged.
March 21, 2009 · 10:25 am
This article was in Al Riyadh newspaper on Thursday and I fully expected it to be translated and published in Arab News on Friday. As it hasn’t been, I thought I would do the honors:
A Saudi citizen, Al Qahtani, has requested that the authorities open an investigation with members of the PVPV, Badi’ah Branch, accusing them of assaulting him and tearing his clothes after he had dropped off his wife at a local mall.
Al Qahtani told the authorities that his wife had wanted to meet up with her family at a mall west of Riyadh and after he dropped her off he went to a nearby grocery shop where he was accosted by a group of men and pulled outside. They forced him into a car that had the PVPV logo on it.
Al Qahtani added that they then took him back to the mall where he had left his wife and during the trip they insulted him and called him names that he alleged should never come from a Muslim man’s mouth. At the mall, they forcefully pulled his wife outside amid her screams and a gathering crowd. They then interrogated us.
The PVPV members then took Al Qahtani to their Badiah offices and confiscated his car, mobile and wallet. They examined and searched the contents of each.
When the PVPV members finally figured out that they were wrong, the assailants warned Al Qahtani to not report the incident to the papers and one of the members even admitted that he had just finished a course in how to interact with the public.
Al Qahtani requests through this article that the General President of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Ahumain investigate the matter and hold the assailants accountable for how they treated him and his wife. He added that his wife is now traumatized since the incident.
It should be noted that the citizen filed an official complaint at the Police Department against the individuals who assaulted him. And in turn, Riyadh Newspaper contacted PVPV Badi’ah Branch and could not get any response.
The comments on the newspaper website were 951. I glanced quickly through them and noticed a shift in that previously when such incidents are reported the majority of the comments were made by zealous fans of the PVPV who would go as far as blame those who write negatively about the PVPV for the bad weather because God is punishing us for criticizing the PVPV. And there are some who believe that the PVPV are the extension or at the same level as the Sahaba, the Prophet’s (PBUH) companions. These people did ot have the usual strong presence but there were a few who are in denial regarding the PVPV’s behaviour. They write that either the assailants were not PVPV but men posing as PVPV to dirty their reputation and others wrote that Al Qahtani has to have done something wrong, otherwise these men would not have done this. But I was happy to see that even those who seem like extreme fundamentals have started to write that we should hold PVPV individuals accountable.
I don’t know what really happened but I don’t think that Al Qahtani would take it this far if he had been lying or even exaggerating. I do know of a friend of mine who was out at a fast food restaurant with her brother for dinner and the PVPV refused to believe that they were brother and sister and took them to the PVPVheadquarters where their father had to come and get them. They were not physically harmed but it was distressing to have to prove that they were siblings just because they wanted a quick bite to eat. And a relative of mine has been interrogated several times at coffee shops whenever he takes his wife out. What my friend and my relative’s wife have in common is that both do like to dress in expensive and embroidered abayas and they both did not have young children with them. So maybe that was what caused the PVPV in Al Qahtani’s case to jump to conclusions.
February 17, 2009 · 8:49 pm
- Former minister of education: Dr. Al Obaid
New minister of education: Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Mohamed Al Saud
Former deputy minister of girls' education: Dr. Khalid bin Abdullah Al Mashari Al Saud
NO CLEAR PHOTO AVAILABLE
New deputy minister of girls’ education: Mrs. Nora Al Faiz
Former deputy minister of boys' education: Dr. Saeed Al Malais
New deputy minister of boys' education: Dr. Khalid Al Sabti
(New position)Vice minister of education: Dr. Faisal bin Moamer
So the dust has settled and now that we can look more closely at the changes made, we can see that there is a new position that wasn’t there before. It’s not the position given to the first Saudi woman minister. But I can’t help but think that it might be because of it. I am speculating here and to me it could be one of two things. The first cynical point of view is that the job given to Mrs. Nora Al Faiz is only for show and Dr. Faisal bin Moamer is the one that is really going to call all the shots in girls’ education. The other way you can look at it is that it was necessary to create a general vice minister position because the new minister is one of the more prominent members of the royal of family and was previously a direct assistant and consultant to the head of the secret service agency and as such requires someone close by to take over when need be.
December 24, 2008 · 6:22 am
What brought this to mind is that recently someone in my circle of acquaintances committed suicide. Attending the funeral, no one, not a single person used the term suicide. They would mention things that were so obvious like that the departed sat her older sister down just a few days before dying and told her that she was saying her last goodbyes and asked her to take care of a few things for her after she passes away. A couple of months before she insisted that her husband divorce her and when her family demanded to know why, she told them because he is such a great guy and she wanted him to live his life. She also cashed all her savings and gave it to her kids and then sent them to their paternal grandparents. What they would say is that Sabhan Allah, she somehow had a premonition and knew!
Growing up, we were always told that people who commit suicide would spend eternity in hell because life, even our own, does not belong to us so we have no right to snuff it out. And there was a lot of emphasis on eternal hell and that suicide is just the same as murder. Now I don’t know if the eternal hell part is based on scripture or not and I don’t feel like finding out. But I do know that there is a saying from the Quran which essentially means that we should not put ourselves in the path of destruction.
All this background rambling because at the funeral I heard the mother of the deceased and a few others repeatedly say that well at least now she’s in heaven. She always was zahida (uninterested in worldly things). Maybe they knew deep down, but they didn’t want to think that their daughter and sister was being punished for eternity.
In general, Saudi society views suicide as deeply sad but not quite shameful. It’s better to have someone in the family who committed suicide than a daughter who elopes or a son addicted to drugs. People will gossip for about a month after the funeral and then everything will be shrouded in secrecy and never talked about as if the person who died never was born in the first place.
On death certificates, you rarely have suicide written on them. The family pressures the hospital and doctors probably think what’s the point in an insensitive truth.
Saudi suicides and attempted suicides can be categorized into three types according to gender and nationality of who commits them:
- Male non Saudi workers who come here on there own leaving there families behind in poverty stricken countries. Open any newspaper and at least once a week you’ll read about a worker who hung himself in his small living quarters. And if you’re reading Al Riyadh newspaper the column will likely be accompanied by a horrific photo of the whole thing. You would have to be a rock not to understand and empathize. These men come here in hopes of a better life and only find extreme loneliness, homesickness and for the unfortunate few employers who have no intention of paying them. On top of that they are openly treated as if they were something less than human.
- Saudi men. Most suicides committed by Saudi men are financially driven. They either lose huge amounts of money on the Stock Market and throw themselves from a highway bridge or they figure out that they’ll never be able to maintain a Saudi lifestyle and hang themselves. Saudi men have a tendency for public extreme methods of ending it all. In Yanbu there’s a tower notorious for the number of men who threw themselves from it. And one time at work I remember a colleague of mine coming in the morning obviously shaken. She told us that a man wearing what Saudis traditionally wear under their thobes threw himself into the high speed traffic right in front of her.
- Saudi women commit suicide after long bouts of depression. I know that in the press people write that it is because they are forced into marriages. But in my experience of middle class Saudi I have yet to come across anything as melodramatic as a woman being forced to marry someone she doesn’t want. Not to say that that does not happen, it’s just that when it does it’s usually in the poorer parts. However when it comes to my part of the Saudi neighborhood, you can see the signs long before the end. Women who are educated cooped up in villas with no purpose in life except to be the frill and fluffy component of the family. They don’t even have to clean up after themselves and then they finish their education and there are no jobs and nothing for them to do that would light up their passion or give them purpose besides finding something to chat about with their elderly mother over tea. They fall into depression, stop attending social occasions, surrounding families start to forget what that particular daughter looks like and then a year or two later there’s a funeral.
December 3, 2008 · 9:35 pm
The Saudi woman cartoon: Please insert one riyal + a letter of permission from your male guardian authenticated by a stamp from his office of employment + 2 photocopies of the family registration card + a certificate of commendable conduct authenticated by the protection of fungal life association + an aerial photo of your house that proves that there is a male guardian living with you + an x-ray of your primary teeth + your Jinn qareen’s birth certificate + the original copy of the bible + 3 feathers from the wings of a gray rooster on the condition that it’s the youngest of it’s siblings + 2 ground cloves (be careful that it’s only 2 … Once you insert the above requirements please be aware that for your OWN BENEFIT a drink will be randomly chosen for your because you could be OVERLY EMOTIONAL in your selection.
The Saudi man cartoon: please insert your riyal and select your drink.
This cartoon has been making the rounds on Email. I have recieved it twice from two different people. I don’t know where it was originally published.
November 24, 2008 · 11:18 pm
This month the Education Ministry instructed all religion teachers to spend five minutes of every class they teach to lecture students on how to dress properly and avoid western clothes. These instructions are strange considering that all Saudi public schools have very strict dress codes that even govern hairstyles. Girls have to wear a uniform inside the school and a tent style abaya with full face cover coming in and going out of the school while boys have to wear thobes (traditional Saudi menswear) and have their hair almost shaved off. And yet this is not enough, what students wear at home and on their own time under their parents’ supervision has to be addressed too!
Another issue that the Ministry has asked all schools to look out for is that some students come to school with pictures on their bags and stationary supplies. The issued warning is ambiguous about the nature of these pictures but for readers of Arabic you would think it was pornography. Actually it’s more in the nature of the wildly popular Disney High School Musical and Hannah Montana characters. These according to the warning are putting our school environment and the whole of society in dire danger. While the schools do their jobs of confiscating pictures and organizing parental awareness programs, the Ministry has promised to take this up with Saudi commerce to stop allowing these pictures into the country.
In all Ministry of Education supervised schools students spend a lot of time on religious studies averaging about 6 to 9 40 minute classes per week, depending on the grade level. What is taught during all that time? Some of it is just reading and memorizing the Quran which I enjoyed as a student since many of the Quran chapters we took were stories about prophets. But many other classes are devoted to abstract and unrelatable concepts especially at the elementary level. And what I mean by abstract is like a whole subject devoted to monotheism that is taught over and over again from first grade up until students graduate. And then there’s Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh) in which students learn about which kind of lamb should be sacrificed and how to prepare a corpse for burial, all of this in theoretical terms of course and through mostly rote memorization. What am I getting at? It bothers me that all this time at school is spent on such topics that the majority of students will not have to deal with in real life. What is more, the Ministry is willing to push class time for such a superficial issue like how students dress in their own time but at the same time if you visit any school canteen in our kingdom you will find chaos. I have never seen a school canteen where students stand properly in line waiting for their turn.Come in to any school early in the morning and I guarantee that you will catch some students with their notebooks sprawled out copying last night’s homework. Check out all the posters hanging on the walls of the school and you will see that at least 95% of them were not done by the students whose names are shamelessly written on it but actually some Syrian or Egyptian man in a shop was paid to make it. Teaching students to have pride in making things themselves has not quite caught on.
The Prophet Mohammed PBUH said (Religion is morals) which means that the main manifestation of Islam within a society is how people deal with each other. So why is respecting others by standing in line not assigned five minutes? Why is plagiarism and pride in one’s own work not assigned a chapter? And how about Saudi arrogance, self-righteousness and racism?
This post was long overdue having gotten myself into numerous verbal clashes at cashiers because people just won’t wait their turn but what really instigated this topic was that my sister’s friend was beaten up badly by a couple of women at a clothing shop, Zara, because she wouldn’t let them cut in. She took this to court but the women just won’t show up and consequently the hearing keeps getting postponed.