A group of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia said they have applied to the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) for permission to establish an independent civil society organization under the name “Ansar al-Mar’a” (Supporters of Women), AlArabiya.net reports today. The group consists of 21 members, most of them are women.
The first time I heard about this group was few months ago when one of their members, Sulaiman al-Salman, appeared on Haifaa al-Mansour’s talk show on LBC to discuss women’s driving. Al-Salman said the aim of the group is to demand women’s rights such as driving cars and the right to uncover their faces and have more flexible work options. I have tried to acquire more information about them, but so far such information remain scarce.
I don’t think they will get the permission they are seeking. It’s a really long shot. The law that is supposed to regulate civil society organizations is still under discussion in Shoura Council and awaits to be voted after the Shoura members return from their summer vacation. As far as I know, the only type of permission MOSA give to establish an NGO in the present time is restricted to charities and philanthropic bodies.
The article quotes some other members of the group whom I’ve never heard of before, but I think these people are/should be fully aware of what I said here. It is unclear to me why they apply in the first place if they know their application would be rejected, at least until the new law is implemented. Such application seems like a move to create buzz around the group more than a serious attempt to establish something sustainable.
However, it takes only a little spark like this to provoke the likes of Sahwa unofficial spokesman Mohammed al-Nujaimi, who would never miss a chance to be in the media, to release his loose cannons. Nujaimi has been leading a fierce crusade against all things liberal in Saudi Arabia, and this was a good opportunity for him to continue his efforts.
“I’m not against that liberals would start an organization to support women,” he said. “I’m against some of their ideas, especially that all people in this group are liberals.” This doesn’t make sense, but that’s OK because being the demagogue that he is, he’s never been known to make much sense. “We support women from an Islamic perspective,” he added.
Moreover, Nujaimi seems pretty sure that his views regarding women’s issues would prevail in the end. He said that a controversial issue like face covering can only be decided through some kind of a ‘domestic’ fatwa, and since the religious establishment here say a women must cover her face then there should be no argument about that (!). “In any case, women will cover their faces in government offices,” he concluded.
Sometimes I wonder if Nujaimi actually listens to himself when he comes up with stuff like these. He sounds as if he is trying to make things seem logical, but the problem is that his logic is so twisted. Since when one has to adhere to the instructions of some official authority to make up his beliefs and becomes a devoted Muslim? All I know is that the Islam Mohammed al-Nujaimi and his likes talk about is not the Islam I know.
I started talking about women’s rights and ended up talking about Islam. How did that happen? That’s normal: the conservatives here like to squeeze religion into everything, whether they were trying to object to some inevitable change or simply to make a point, but truth is, they have not been making many good of these lately.