Covering Up

Niqab-less Norah al-Faiz

Norah al-Faiz is supposed to be a symbol of progress in Saudi Arabia. She was appointed deputy minister of education by King Abdullah in February 2009, making her the kingdom’s highest-ranking female official. At the time, many observers hailed the move as a sign of reform.

But controversy has dogged Faiz since the beginning of her tenure. Continue reading at Foreign Policy

Update 6/27/2012: Saudi state press agency published this new photo of al-Faiz, reportedly taken in Riyadh last night during her visit to an Aramco cultural event. She is the first from the left in the black abaya.

Norah al-Faiz in Aramco cultural event in Riyadh

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10 thoughts on “Covering Up

  1. It’s suppose to be the choice and the right to each woman to cover up as she wants without scare of the others. Anyway in Islam it’s OK for the women to open their faces and it’s also OK to cover their faces!

  2. Ali Alyami

    If contradictions did not exist prior to the assemblage of the Saudi theocratic system, Saudi Arabia would have had a third pilferage shrine. No?

    Dr. Norah Al-Faiz is a high ranking official, but if she does not camouflage herself in a black garment, she can be subjected to physical abuse by an illiterate low ranking official in a mall who is also paid and empowered by the same system that gave her artificial fame.

    Reforming the Saudi system from within means reforms will remain an allusive desert mirage. If reforms from within were possible, the Arab Spring would have been labeled: Arab anti-reform movement.

  3. Saudi Arabia at a Crossroads
    By Ali Alyami

    Unlike any other royal death, Crown Prince Naïf’s will have a prodigious impact on his family and on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regardless of who sits on the throne. His death ends an era of fear and intimidation, an era when his dreaded security police abducted people from their homes, holding them without charges or trials in solitary confinement for years.

    Even if Prince Naif’s death does not change the status quo in the kingdom, it will remove an octopus-like nightmare most Saudis, including members of his own family, have endured for the last forty years. His departure from the Saudi political landscape presents the Saudi ruling princes with a game-changing opportunity that could be utilized to transform Saudi institutions, changes Naif had adamantly opposed.

    As the architect and enforcer of Saudi Arabia’s multi-layered security apparatus, Naif was the kingdom’s “Darth Vader,” presiding over a 130,000 strong paramilitary force, all of the nation’s police forces, customs, immigration, the coast guard, the border guard and the religious police. This overwhelming power gave Naif the supremacy he wanted to promote his own agenda in the kingdom and oppose reform, ensuring his family’s survival and guaranteeing its hegemony over the country, its people and its wealth.

    Naif was a nationalist; a hardnosed, independent and ferocious royal who maintained rigid control over his family and the kingdom, even though the presiding king is supposed to have the final say in all matters of state. Convinced that any change in the status quo would lead to the demise of the ruling family at a time of widespread revolt across the Arab world, Naif blocked meaningful social, political, economic and religious reforms from taking place in his country.

    Now that the two most powerful opponents of reform, Princes Sultan and Naif are gone, it’s up to King Abdullah to prove to his restless population that he is the kind of reformer his subjects believe and want him to be. Only time will tell, but if the king’s actions reflect his intentions, the Saudis who have mistakenly put their faith in him may be in for a rude awakening.
    Rather than seize this opportunity for change, the king has already selected Prince Salman to inherit the throne, a man whose staunch opposition to reform greatly outdoes that of his predecessors, Naif and Sultan. Indeed, Salman has long felt that the ruling family has already gone out of its way to accommodate their subjects.

    It would be a tragic mistake for King Abdullah, Prince Salman, their Mufti and their major ally and supporter, the US, to continue operating under the assumption that the Saudi people will remain ambivalent to what’s happening in their country. Like their counterparts in the Arab World, the Saudi people are becoming progressively convinced that violence may be the only option available for them to achieve their political rights.

    It would have been prudent for King Abdullah to revive and expand the Council of Allegiance, the body he created in 2006 to choose a new king and crown prince. The present political, social and gender status quo cannot be sustained for long regardless of the ruling family’s scare tactics, monetary compensation (bribery) or its empty promises. The time to act on reform is now. Tomorrow might be too late.

  4. Saudi is a complicated country with an intricate system of culture and religion…
    So often outsiders try to understand and conceptualize the Saudi situation. Systems and cultures need to be understood devoid of prejudice and bias.

    Perhaps Norah al-Faiz is doing what needs to be done to ensure progression…

  5. With due respect, India has hundreds of languages, subcultures and numerous religious orientations; yet it’s the largest democracy on earth albeit imperfect, but all citizens are protected under the rule of codified law.

    Every democratic society has diversified cultures, religions, regions and ethnicity.

    The above comment supports those who insist that Islam and Saudi traditions are backward, intolerant and anti equality, human rights and condescending of women.

  6. I bet Al-Faiz is a window dressing for reform. I feel sorry for her though as she probably has to toe a certain line or else she would be removed from her position. I know the system I ve worked in it and when you stand your ground you face consequences and there is no great reward for being a reformer. Reward is for those who uphold the status quo and tell the foreign audiences what they think they want and need to hear. Those of us who live it know the real truth.

    • Saudi Arabia at a Crossroads
      By Ali Alyami

      Unlike any other royal death, Crown Prince Naïf’s will have a prodigious impact on his family and on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regardless of who sits on the throne. His death ends an era of fear and intimidation, an era when his dreaded security police abducted people from their homes, holding them without charges or trials in solitary confinement for years.

      Even if Prince Naif’s death does not change the status quo in the kingdom, it will remove an octopus-like nightmare most Saudis, including members of his own family, have endured for the last forty years. His departure from the Saudi political landscape presents the Saudi ruling princes with a game-changing opportunity that could be utilized to transform Saudi institutions, changes Naif had adamantly opposed.

      As the architect and enforcer of Saudi Arabia’s multi-layered security apparatus, Naif was the kingdom’s “Darth Vader,” presiding over a 130,000 strong paramilitary force, all of the nation’s police forces, customs, immigration, the coast guard, the border guard and the religious police. This overwhelming power gave Naif the supremacy he wanted to promote his own agenda in the kingdom and oppose reform, ensuring his family’s survival and guaranteeing its hegemony over the country, its people and its wealth.

      Naif was a nationalist; a hardnosed, independent and ferocious royal who maintained rigid control over his family and the kingdom, even though the presiding king is supposed to have the final say in all matters of state. Convinced that any change in the status quo would lead to the demise of the ruling family at a time of widespread revolt across the Arab world, Naif blocked meaningful social, political, economic and religious reforms from taking place in his country.

      Now that the two most powerful opponents of reform, Princes Sultan and Naif are gone, it’s up to King Abdullah to prove to his restless population that he is the kind of reformer his subjects believe and want him to be. Only time will tell, but if the king’s actions reflect his intentions, the Saudis who have mistakenly put their faith in him may be in for a rude awakening.

      Rather than seize this opportunity for change, the king has already selected Prince Salman to inherit the throne, a man whose staunch opposition to reform greatly outdoes that of his predecessors, Naif and Sultan. Indeed, Salman has long felt that the ruling family has already gone out of its way to accommodate their subjects.

      It would be a tragic mistake for King Abdullah, Prince Salman, their Mufti and their major ally and supporter, the US, to continue operating under the assumption that the Saudi people will remain ambivalent to what’s happening in their country. Like their counterparts in the Arab World, the Saudi people are becoming progressively convinced that violence may be the only option available for them to achieve their political rights.

      It would have been prudent for King Abdullah to revive and expand the Council of Allegiance, the body he created in 2006 to choose a new king and crown prince. The present political, social and gender status quo cannot be sustained for long regardless of the ruling family’s scare tactics, monetary compensation (bribery) or its empty promises. The time to act on reform is now. Tomorrow might be too late.

  7. I’m glad this subject is being addressed. It isn’t an easy one to deal with one but there comes a time when our veils are lifted either literally or metaphorically and then it’s a time of sincerity…

    A time of being real…a time for hearts to be touched…a time for lives to be transformed…a time to take a stand…a time to be brave and strong. Are we allowed to be our authentic selves or are we hiding?

    The veils are being lifted! Amen

  8. I agree with Ali. She doesn’t have a choice. And a lot of women have the same philosophy when it comes to covering their face. We do it in KSA to escape scrutiny, and we wear a simple hijab without covering our face when we go abroad since it’s less noticeable. Besides, with the religious scholars releasing lectures every now and then about women who were harassed and raped and blaming all that solely on the women’s not wearing hijab properly, as if we’re the exact image of Biblical Eve the temptress, and as if Saudi males are a bunch of animals who can’t control themselves, you can’t blame them.
    On the other hand, different sunni sects have different says about covering the face, but the Saudi system along with its scholars only acknowledge their twisted version which they call the Hanbali sect, even though most of it is derived from traditions.
    any ways, aside from all that, this woman made things worse. There’s no progress what so ever in the field of education, and all I hear of is some sort of unfair set of rules imposed on teachers without the slightest regard to different governing conditions like the curriculum, and the state of most buildings. She’s asking too much when the ministry of education gives so little in return.
    I was kind of hopeful at first when I first heard of a female taking such a position, but then it got clear to me. She’s either a puppet or an idiot. and to add to that, she’s one of the, to quote my friend, Njood babes. Her being proud of her roots entails that she’s either a racist, that she believes in the superiority of the area in relation to religion, even above Makkah, or both.
    But then again, I might have misjudged her.
    P.S. I’m not expecting much of the shura’s female members either.

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