Tag Archive | "women"

Tags: , , ,

Saudi Woman Accuses Chauffeur of Rape Amid Row

Posted on 02 June 2011 by hashimilion

A Saudi businesswoman, forced by law to hire a male driver, has accused her chauffeur of raping her, a newspaper reported Wednesday amid a growing campaign to allow women to drive themselves.

The daily Okaz said the driver stopped the car in an industrial part of the holy western city of Medina and raped her while threatening to shoot her with his pistol.

The woman, who was not named, reported the attack and the driver, whose nationality was not given, was arrested.

The report coincides with an intensifying campaign to bring a change of law so that women can obtain a driving licence and drive legally. Activists have called on women to drive their cars in a protest rally on June 17.

Earlier this week, Saudi authorities decided to free on bail Manal al-Sharif who was detained for 10 days for breaking the ultra-conservative kingdom’s ban on women driving, her lawyer said.

“We were informed today of the decision to free Manal on bail. The procedural steps towards her release are under way,” Adnan al-Saleh told AFP, adding he hoped the case would now be closed.

Sharif had called upon King Abdullah to release her, Saleh told AFP on Sunday after meeting his client in prison.

The woman, a 32-year-old computer-security consultant, was arrested on May 22 after posting on YouTube a video of herself driving her car around the eastern Saudi city of Khobar.

The divorced mother of one explained in the video that getting around was often a headache. Women in Saudi Arabia without the means to hire a chauffeur must depend on the goodwill of male family members to drive them.

Her arrest sparked debate about women’s rights within the kingdom.

A Facebook page titled “We are all Manal al-Sharif: a call for solidarity with Saudi women’s rights,” on Sunday had more than 24,000 supporters.

However, another Facebook page called on men to use “iqals” — the cords used with traditional headdresses by many Gulf men — to beat Saudi women who drive their cars in the planned June 17 protest.

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Saudi Women Charged with Hate Crime After Spitting on Wal-Mart Customers

Posted on 18 May 2011 by hashimilion

A 21-year-old woman faces hate-crime charges after she repeatedly spat at a Walmart customer, and later proclaimed that “Americans are pushing us around,” according to police in Florida.

Nuha Mohammed Al-Doaifi, a Saudi Arabian national, faces a charge of battery with a hate-crime enhancement after Palm Bay police were called on Sunday to a Wal-Mart to investigate reports of a disturbance.

The hate-crime enhancement means that the battery charge could be elevated to a felony.

According to CBS affiliate WKMG, police said the incident started when Al-Doaifi attempted to roll a shopping cart into the store and struck the exit door.

A customer told her she was using the wrong door, prompting Al-Doaifi to allegedly spit in the person’s face before turning and walking into the store to go shopping, police said.

“Her actions were directed at random people based on their ethnicity, and that’s according to her own statement,” police spokeswoman Yvonne Martinez told WKMG.

Witnesses said Al-Doaifi, accompanied by her 2-year-old son, also spit at another customer who apparently got too close to her. Several officers approached Al-Doaifi to talk in the store and asked her why she spat at customers.

“Americans are pushing us around,” Al-Doaifi stated before officers took her into custody, according to reports.

She was arrested and booked into the Brevard County Detention Center in Sharpes where she remained jailed on Monday.

“She’s also had an incident with one of her Florida Tech professors,” Martinez told the station. “She also spat at the professor. They have initiated procedures to have her sent back to Saudi Arabia.”

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , ,

Demonstrations in Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University

Posted on 05 May 2011 by hashimilion

Hundreds of women took part in demonstrations in Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh Saudi Arabia today after failing their English exam.

The students felt hard done by the results, which were marked subjectively without a clear academic criteria.

The University President tried to stop the demonstration but to no avail. The women were chanting we will continue to demonstrate  until the President resigns.

The University President retaliated by saying: “that all those who have failed their english exams will repeat the whole year and retake all their subjects. They will start from scratch because they’ve caused a lot of chaos and humiliated the university staff. This will be a lesson to all students, not just in this university but in all universities around the country.”

The woman’s revolution in Saudi Arabia is up and running.

Comments (6)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Modernization Paradox: Saudi Arabia’s Divided Society

Posted on 04 May 2011 by hashimilion

There is something profoundly paradoxical about the new Al Faisaliah shopping center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A sprawling, three-story compound complete with air-conditioning and wireless internet, the bustling shopping mall is chock full of US fast-food chains and swanky clothing shops boasting everything from bras to basketball shoes. And yet, these hallmarks of economic modernity and Western-style mass consumerism are strikingly juxtaposed with the rigidly imposed cultural mores that have changed only marginally since the days when Riyadh was little more than a collection of dirt streets and mud houses.


Indeed, government enforcement of social mores has set Saudi Arabia apart as one the world’s strictest and most traditional societies. The women roam from shop to shop clothed in full black abayas–garments that cover the entire body in order to disguise a woman’s form–and scan shelves of children’s clothes from behind face-covering niqabs. In the neighboring restaurants, unmarried men and women are not allowed to interact, and couples who choose to eat out are segregated by portable partitions. Women wishing to shop in the center or dine in these restaurants must rely on their male relatives to drive them, and they are not allowed to vote for the council members that advise the government on the development and establishment of these modern institutions. The enforcement of these and other rules, which generally mandate the segregation of men and women in all public arenas, falls under the responsibility of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a government agency whose “morals police” monitors public areas to ensure that the rules are upheld to the highest standards of Islamic decency.

A Society of Paradoxes

This tension between modernity and tradition in Saudi Arabia is perhaps most palpable with regard to these laws toward women, but it is a paradox that has also manifested itself in virtually every branch of Saudi society. As Saudi Arabia develops, it has witnessed an ever-increasing number of contradictions between its modern economic institutions and rigid political and social systems. In a country whose economy is considerably dependent on the presence of foreign laborers, not to mention the innumerable Western professionals that contribute to the oil sector, there is still no freedom to worship any religion but Islam. Despite being one of the newest official voting members of the WTO, Saudi Arabia has still never had a national election–making it one of the world’s ten least democratic states, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2007 Democracy Index. Part of a multi-decade effort to strengthen the private sector, the country now has the strongest stock market in the region, but the kingdom’s would-be entrepreneurs are graduating from universities that are ranked among the lowest in the world. Barriers to foreign direct investment, which until recently had been insurmountably high, have been significantly lowered, and yet the state still refuses to grant tourist visas to Westerners, opening its borders only to Muslims that travel to Mecca on the Hajj.

The reality today is that Saudi Arabia is being pulled in two different directions. What is significant about this struggle, however, is the degree to which modernization has failed to permeate Saudi society beyond the economic sphere. Indeed, conventional wisdom among Western governments and institutions holds that economic prosperity will inevitably set developing nations on a road away from backwards political systems and toward pluralism, democracy, and liberalism. The Western view holds that with the development of a thriving middle class comes internal pressure to reform, and when this pressure becomes strong enough, incumbent regimes have no choice but to bow to the wishes of their people and liberalize their socio-political structures. Such beliefs have been the basis of much Western activity abroad in the last 50 years, with great hope being placed in institutions like the IMF and World Bank to bring about economic stability and eventual democratization movements. The theory has held up relatively well in certain regions of the world, but the trend in Saudi Arabia has established a new paradigm–defying certain beliefs about a direct connection between economic and political liberalization. Indeed, the pattern of change over the years in Saudi Arabia has demonstrated that more economic success can breed greater political oppression, for it is only in times of financial hardship that the country has achieved even marginal changes. As a result, political modernization in Saudi Arabia has not kept pace with economic liberalization. Today the kingdom stands at the forefront of developing nations in terms of wealth and infrastructure, but close to last with regard to political openness.

In 50 Years, from Rags to Riches

When King Abdul Aziz signed the treaty with the British government in 1932 that established the Saudi state, he inherited a fractured and backwards country that had next to no unified economy or infrastructure. For six years Saudi Arabia’s economy limped along, when in 1938, a team of US geologists stumbled across what would later be deemed the world’s greatest supply of natural oil, launching Saudi Arabia on a 50-year ascent to economic prosperity and material wealth. By the 1970s, the Saudi government, which receives almost 75 percent of its budgetary inflows from oil exports and controls 95 percent of all domestic oil production, was beginning to accrue vast revenues from Saudi oil exports. A confluence of factors in the mid-1970s led to this sudden economic acceleration, the greatest of which was an exponential growth in world oil prices (from $0.22 per barrel in 1948 to over $10 per barrel in 1974) caused by the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The government used this sudden surplus in oil revenue to launch a series of five-year development projects that would completely transform the kingdom into a thriving, modern society.

Even when world oil prices decreased sharply in the 1980s, the government under King Fahd continued to invest heavily in development and modernization, running significant budget deficits to pay for its projects. When the King died in August 2005, his obituary in the London Daily Telegraph referred to him as the “mastermind behind the modernization of his desert kingdom,” and indeed during his tenure as Crown Prince and then as King, he successfully spearheaded a series of structural developments that brought Saudi Arabia into the modern age.

Since the 1990s, similar modernization programs have continued, as Saudi Arabia has redirected revenues from oil exports toward infrastructure development, privatization, and economic diversification. Recently, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, launched the construction of a US$6.7 billion financial district in Riyadh and partially privatized the Saudi stock exchange in the hopes of making Saudi Arabia the top financial center in the Middle East. The country joined the WTO in 2005, after the signing of the US-Saudi Trade Investment Framework Agreement, which forced it to dismantle many preexisting trade barriers. The regime has also begun to dismantle previously insurmountable barriers to foreign direct investment, which it hopes will further its goals of diversifying its private sector and becoming a leading financial player in the region.

Of course Saudi Arabia’s economy is still far from perfect. But in the last half-century the remarkable nature of the country’s economic transformation cannot be disputed. Funded almost completely by oil revenues, Saudi Arabia has gone from a country of fractured tribes living in sand-swept villages, to a thriving, industrial nation dotted with skyscrapers, superhighways, airports, and factories.

Setting a New Paradigm: Resisting Reform

And yet, despite the economic similarities between Saudi Arabia and the developed states of the West, the US House of Representative still voted on June 22 to withhold the minimal amount of foreign aid that the United States regularly grants to the kingdom, citing among its reasons Saudi Arabia’s dismal human rights records and its lack of progress in liberalizing its political system. It was a tangible sign that, despite claims over the last two years that Saudi society is “changing,” the country still has a long way to go before its social, legal, and political structures begin to resemble the modern character of its economy.

Although much has changed in Saudi Arabia since the country’s founding in 1932, the Saudi government has remained remarkably consistent with regard to its policymaking vision. It seeks to improve the economic welfare of the country’s citizens while also enforcing (sometimes ruthlessly) the country’s customs and traditions. The first half of this policy has been rigorously pursued through the reforms described above, but the latter half has manifested itself in repressive laws and a closed political system that are always justified on the basis of protecting Saudi Arabia’s Islamic heritage.

But this still does not explain why Saudi Arabia has bucked the prevailing consensus on the integral link between political and economic reforms. It does not explain the paradox of why, as Saudi Arabia’s populace has become richer, better educated, and more diversely opinionated, there has been almost no internal pressure for political liberalization. But, in the end, almost every trend in Saudi society can be explained by the single most important factor that has shaped the Saudi state–oil. And the complacency of the new Saudi middle class is ultimately no exception. The government, through its pet company Saudi Aramco, controls virtually all oil extraction and refining in the country and maintains its profligate social and economic spending through revenues from this oil production. The result is an economic welfare state of the most bizarre type, so bizarre that it has been given its own name by experts in the region–a rentier state. In such a state, rather than imposing taxes on its populace to raise the necessary cash for public projects, the government relies on a system of continuous revenues to fund not only economic development projects, but also a unique “welfare” program that tends to manifest itself in the form of simple public handouts. As long as the government can maintain these handouts, most citizens simply ask no questions–with no taxation, they demand no representation.

This system has been the primary factor behind the Saudi regime’s ability to maintain the same closed structure and enforce the same oppressive laws since its inception, guaranteeing the Al Saud family almost full carte blanche as they shape the country’s future and insulating them against the ramifications of poor or careless economic decisions. The resulting paradox is that as Saudi Arabia gets richer, its rulers find it easier to guarantee absolute rule. Prosperity in this case does not breed democratic change, but rather pushes Saudi society in precisely the opposite direction.

This unique phenomenon is perhaps best observed during the times that the Saudi economy has faltered. In the 1980s, when Saudi Arabia experienced its first major economic slowdown, public clamoring for political change garnered a promise from King Fahd to establish a consultative assembly (Majlis Al Shura) that would act as an advisory body to the Al Saud government. The promise turned out to be little more than hot air, however, with Fahd preferring to handle political dissidents with swift, repressive, and often violent justice. Indeed it was not until the years directly following the Gulf War, when international oil prices collapsed and public spending was cut, that middle-class technocrats and young Islamic fundamentalists generated enough public opposition to pressure the Fahd regime to honor its promise and establish the Majlis Al Shura–with all delegates appointed by the government. Then in the late 1990s, shrunken oil earnings again motivated the Saudi populace to speak out. These calls for change coincided with increasing pressure from the West for Saudi Arabia to reform its repressive political structure, and culminated in the kingdom’s first elections in 42 years. In 2005 Saudi men (women were excluded) were allowed for the first time to vote for half of the members of their local town councils (which have only an advisory role in government planning)–the other half of the members were, of course, appointed by King Abdullah. Despite the fact that only 25 percent of eligible voters participated (part of that Saudi apathy that has been instilled by 30 years of government handouts), these elections were hailed around the world as a major first step away from authoritarianism and were construed as a sign that, finally, Saudi Arabia was making efforts to reform.

Four consecutive years of sky-high oil prices and unprecedented economic growth have demonstrated the opposite. Indeed, far from motivating further reform of the authoritarian bureaucracy, these revenues have allowed King Abdullah to consolidate his already tight grip on power. The “democratically elected” town councils have proven to be even more ineffective and powerless than predicted. A law enacted in 2005 prohibits any employees of the government (government workers comprise two-thirds of the native workforce) from speaking out publicly against the regime’s policies. The signatories of a 2004 petition advocating the transformation to a constitutional monarchy have been forbidden to travel, and the authors of a more recent petition advocating reform have been arrested on trumped-up charges of terrorism. Despite a slew of promises from the regime in 2005, there have been no discussions as of yet regarding the establishment of further elections, even for the toothless town councils. Maybe if oil prices suddenly fall again (which looks unlikely) there will be another round of internal pressures and, perhaps, another election, but current trends indicate that the Saudi regime is perfectly content to continue as it always has–developing its economy with all the latest in modern technology and structural reforms, while keeping a tight grip on political power.

Bridging the Gap: Options for the Future

The paradoxical combination of Saudi economic modernization and deficient socio-political reforms proves that the West cannot sit back and hope that further increases in Saudi prosperity will boost the strength and numbers of the Saudi middle class, resulting in internal pressures for the reform of the oppressive political system and its equally ruthless legal code. Nor, for that matter, can the world’s democracies rely on random economic slow-downs and unpredictable decreases in oil prices to be the impetus for reforms. Of course the Saudi economy cannot grow forever and there will inevitably be future recessions, but to expect that such downturns will be the transformative force in Saudi political society is both naive and irresponsible.

If the West is serious about pushing for democratization in the region, it must develop a more comprehensive and effective strategy than the passive waiting game that has been the policy until now. Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to combat the social welfare policies of the Saudi government that have been so successful in establishing the deep sense of complacency among the Saudi people. However, the last decade has demonstrated that opposition to the regime does exist–and the government has had to rely more frequently on direct methods of repression and political silencing to combat internal opposition to its policies. If these voices are allowed to speak out and maintain pressure on the Al Saud government, then there is a chance that Saudi Arabia’s future may be far more democratic than its past. As the 2005 elections demonstrated, the Saudi regime will bend under pressure–especially when that pressure comes both from within the state and from the international community.

Saudi Arabia’s Western allies, upon whom the kingdom depends for diplomatic, political, military, and even economic support, have the ability to push the Saudi regime toward real political and social reforms. Further, if such pressure can be sustained, with strong internal calls for reform being consistently matched by equally condemnatory external criticism, then the Saudi regime may have no choice but to take further steps toward liberalizing its political structure and amending its draconian legal measures. Indeed this may be the only way by which the Saudi government can be forced to bridge the ever-increasing gap between its modernized economy and its repressive socio-political institutions.

By Killian Clarke

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Women Assert Place in Yemen’s Protests

Posted on 22 April 2011 by hashimilion

Ali Abdullah Saleh, the beleaguered president of Yemen, should have known better. Fighting for his political life (and perhaps for his physical life too), he played the woman card. After last Friday’s prayers, he tried to dampen down the escalating protests against his rule by admonishing women to stay home. He claimed that their presence in the streets, “mingling with men,” was against Islam.   His ploy backfired. Within hours of his speech, text messages raced around the capital demanding a “women’s march” as a rebuttal.  The following day, 10,000 abaya-clad women, almost all wearing the face-covering niqab, marched in protest. Many of the women had never before participated in any political activities. They were there to avenge the honor of all Yemeni women. As one woman shouted into a microphone, “If Saleh read the Quran, he wouldn’t have made this accusation.”

Perhaps if he knew his history better, he would have avoided kicking this hornet’s nest altogether. Throughout the 20th century, women played an important role in revolutions and wars of independence across the Islamic world. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern Pakistan, well understood the critical role that women could play in the independence movement – as actors and as symbols. He purposefully addressed women’s gatherings and encouraged their participation in meetings and street demonstrations.  The women’s wing of Jinnah’s Muslim League – comprised mostly of wives, daughters and sisters of prominent Muslim League men – proved crucial in getting Muslim women out of their homes for the first time to advocate for an independent Pakistan.  Although conservative Islamic leaders condemned these actions on the part of women, the Muslim League defended women’s mobilization as a religious duty. Women’s mobilization, even in the conservative North-West Frontier Province, was so successful that the British governor, upon seeing the mass of burqa-clad women in the streets, supposedly exclaimed, “Pakistan is made.”

Ayatollah Khomeini was also a master of mobilizing women.   One of the turning points of the Iranian Revolution occurred on September 8, 1978, a day that is remembered in Iran as Black Friday. A number of revolutionary groups planned a large demonstration in Jaleh Square in downtown Tehran. By early morning, thousands of people from across the Iranian political spectrum–from Khomeini’s Islamist supporters to intellectuals to Communists–had gathered.  Among them was a sizeable group of women covered from head to toe in their dark chadors. These revolutionary “sisters,” as they came to be known, heeded Ayatollah Khomeini’s calls to leave the confines of their homes to support the protesters–an act previously considered blasphemous in traditional homes, but now legitimized by Khomeini.

As the demonstration progressed, the Shah’s troops closed in on the square. Suddenly, the security forces began firing indiscriminately on the crowd. Hundreds were killed and many more wounded. The Black Friday Massacre was the first time the Shah had used such a heavy hand in stopping a public protest. The fact that women were among the casualties inflamed public opinion. For many protesters, the Shah irrevocably crossed the red line on that Friday.

In some ways, it seems Saleh’s cynical comments about women (he is hardly known for his piety) crossed a red line for Yemenis. Women are now more engaged than ever in Yemen’s struggle for a better government. When I was in Yemen in January, I spent a day with Tawakul Karman, one of the most vocal and active leaders of Yemen’s youth movement who has been leading student demonstrations against Saleh’s corrupt rule for two years now.   Karman, a young mother of three and a member of the Islamic Islah party, has developed a high profile in Yemeni opposition politics. Her name has been bandied about as a possible presidential candidate to succeed Saleh. A female president is unlikely in a country that suffers from some of the worst gender statistics in the world. Then again, so does Pakistan, which has elected a woman leader twice – albeit the same woman.

Saleh, who has lost the backing of both the Saudis and the United States, seems to be in the process of trying to negotiate a handover of power.  Women have made it clear that they are determined to be part of Yemen’s transition. Undoubtedly, conservative forces will try to sideline women once the goal of overturning Saleh is achieved, much as they did in the Iranian revolution and in post-Independence Pakistan (and as some are trying to do in Egypt today). But Yemeni women, like Tawakul Karman, are not about to take a back seat.

By Isobel Coleman

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saudi Activists Call For Major Reforms

Posted on 28 February 2011 by hashimilion

More than 100 Saudi academics, activists and businessmen have called for major reforms including the establishment of a “constitutional monarchy” in the kingdom, in an Internet statement on Sunday.

“We will submit these requests to King Abdullah at a later stage,” said Khaled al-Dakhil, a political science professor at the King Saud University and one of the 132 signatories of the petition.

“We have high hopes that these reforms will be implemented,” Dakhil told AFP. “Now is the time.”

The petition posted on the Internet calls for the election rather than appointment of a Shura consultative council, and the creation of a constitutional monarchy — a demand that led to the arrest of activists in 2003-2004.

It also calls for expanded female participation in social and political life in the oil-rich Gulf country.

Saudi Arabia controls one-quarter of the world’s oil reserves, but unemployment among the conservative kingdom’s youth stands at 10 percent and women are largely kept out of the workforce.

Despite warnings by a senior member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, that “anything could happen” in the kingdom unless it speeded up reforms, the ageing monarchy has been slow in introducing reforms.

Another petition from journalists, lawyers and activists, labelling themselves as the “youth”, also addressed King Abdullah on Wednesday, urging him to introduce reforms.

The group demanded reducing the average number of members of the consultative council and the cabinet to 45, and 40 respectively, and allowing women to be present in both.

Saudi Arabia held landmark municipal elections in 2005, allowing citizens to choose half the members of their local councils. Women were however banned from participating.

But in 2009, the government extended the tenure of existing municipal councils by two years.

Meanwhile, two appeals for a “Day of Rage” in Saudi Arabia on March 11 have been posted on Facebook urging political, social and economic reforms in the kingdom. One had 12,600 fans by Sunday night.

Another Facebook page calls for a “Saudi revolution” on March 20, following in the steps of cyber-activists who led uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that ousted their respective presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the latter a close ally of Riyadh.

The revolts have also spilled over into Yemen, Bahrain and Oman.

In an apparent bid to keep his citizens happy, King Abdullah last week announced a boost in social benefits for Saudis, including a 15-percent pay rise for state employees and an increase in cash available for housing loans.

The package, worth an estimated $36 billion (26 billion euros), is mostly aimed at the youth, civil servants and the unemployed and comes as uprisings against ruling regimes spread across the Arab world.

Comments (0)

Advertise Here
Advertise Here