Manal released, Shoura still a joke, and why Islamists are silent

  • Manal al-Sharif has been released on Tuesday. After her release, she released a statement in which announced that she will no longer be involved with the women’s driving campaign that is scheduled for June 17. The campaign, however, is still on track according a statement published on Facebook.
  • Meanwhile, the Shoura Council said the they are ready to discuss the issue of women’s driving if asked to. Very funny. The speaker talks as if his council actually matters, as if they have a say in what does or doesn’t happen in the country. Even funnier, some people did ask the Shoura to discuss the issue. What the Shoura did? They called them to discuss the issue then cancelled the invitation on the same day.
  • You think Saudi Arabia is a dry country? Think again. In the past six months, 243 drivers in Jeddah alone have had their driving licenses withdrawn after they were caught drunk-driving. I wonder what the numbers are like in Riyadh and also the Eastern Province, where legal access to alcohol is just a short drive across the Johnny Walker birdge King Fahad Causeway.
  • Stéphane Lacroix, who wrote extensively about Islamists in Saudi Arabia, says the reason why these have been largely silent during this season of popular uprisings in the region is because the government has effectively co-opted them. The relationship between the regime and Sahwa is mutually beneficial, and neither party is willing to lose the benefits anytime soon.

More on Manal al-Sharif and women’s driving

  • Eman al-Nafjan has a good roundup on the latest in Manal al-Sharif’s case. Al-Nafjan was on also on CNN to talk about the issues yesterday.
  • Wikileaks documents reveal that the US government been quietly putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive, the Guardian reports.
  • Sabria Jawhar says “There was a time when I firmly believed the endless debate about Saudi women banned from driving cars was trivial. It distracted Saudis from the real problems of the denial of women’s rights: employment, education, guardianship abuses, inheritance, and fair and equitable treatment in the Saudi judicial system. The arrest and imprisonment of Manal Al-Sherif, 32, after driving a car in Khobar, has changed all that.” I have said it before and I will say it again: this issue has become a symbol for all other reform issues in the country, especially the ones related to women status. It has become like a psychological barrier. If we can overcome this, then we can cruise into our other challenges with more confidence and determination.
  • What if Manal al-Sharif were American, and Erin Brockovich were Saudi…
  • Tariq Alhomayed, the man who turned Asharq al-Awsat from a respected newspaper into a joke, weighs in on the women driving issue. Alhomayed fails to name Manal al-Sharif, but he says “She was stopped and told not to drive because there is no organization in place [to regulate female driving], but she returned the following day to drive yet again.” Well, he needs to get his facts checked because this is simply not true. Al-Sharif did not drive again after her first arrest, and she was arrested again from her house late at night in violation of the Saudi law of criminal procedures. Then he went on to say that she filmed her actions and uploaded them to YouTube “in order to provoke people.” How can he speculate about her motive like that when she is still in jail? But hey, at least Alhomayed offers a solution to get us out of this mess: “It would be useful to immediately announce the formation of a committee to study this issue,” he says. Yeah right, that usually works.

#SaudiGirlsUnite, Bandar is back, Gulf monarchies challenge

  • Saudi women activists are planning to show up in polling centers in the country’s major cities to demand their right to participate in the upcoming municipal elections when the registration starts today. The campaign is mainly organized via Facebook and Twitter.
  • Prince Bandar bin Sultan, aka Bandar Bush, is back and John Hannah argues that the United States government should make sure that they have him on their side. Some Saudis, though, are not so thrilled about Bandar’s return. “Whenever he appears in the scene, I become very nervous!” tweeted reform activist Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani.
  • Abdulaziz Sager calls the Gulf monarchies to understand the repercussions of the “Arab Spring,” and that it would be folly to think that the arrangements of the past can last indefinitely. “If the ruling families of the Gulf want to maintain their legitimacy, they need to adapt quickly to the changing times and enact substantive political reform that reflects their people’s aspirations,” he wrote in the Washington Post.

Saudi Municipal elections, weekend change, walk in the DQ

  • After several postponements, the Saudi government finally decided to move ahead with the long-delayed municipal elections. Surprisingly, they now seem in a rush to get it over with: voter registration opens on April 23rd, and the elections will be held on September 22nd. Women, however, will not be allowed to participate. “We are not ready for the participation of women in these municipal elections,” Election Commissioner Abdul Rahman Al-Dahmash told Arab News. I think we deserve a better explanation. I have some harsh words to the elections commission, but for now let me just quote John Burgess: “Dude. It’s been nearly six years since the last election … What have you been doing in the meantime?”
  • It’s been almost four years since the Shoura Council shot down a proposal to move the weekend in Saudi Arabia from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday. Not much has happened since then, but al-Riyadh daily somehow thinks it is time to talk about this again (English here), especially after government employees and students were given Saturday off upon the King’s return. They asked seven citizens, and they all agreed that changing the weekend would be a good thing. The paper did not think it was necessary to ask anyone in in the government or Shoura Council.
  • Speaking of Shoura, the toothless council has called for more media freedom. I wish I can take this council or anything it says seriously, but I really can’t. All members of the council are appointed. Do we actually expect them to be anything but yes-men?
  • Jehan took a walk at the wadi of Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, aka the DQ, and returned with some nice photos. Although I complained before about how hard it is to enter the DQ, I have to say that I actually miss the place. My memories of the place are bittersweet, but I miss it nevertheless. If you live in the city and have access to the DQ you probably want to take advantage of the nice weather these days and enjoy a walk there.

My op-ed in the Guardian

I wrote an op-ed for the Guardian today that was published as part of their coverage of the Middle East unrest. You can read it here. They misspelled my first name, though. They used an a in the middle instead of e, which is a common mistake. I asked them to correct it, but I have not heard back from them.

Three anonymous sources

Arab News, the newspaper that calls itself “The Middle East’s Leading English Language Daily,” published this piece about the lack of lack of cultural and recreational activities available to women in Saudi Arabia. While I don’t question the premise of the story, I do have a problem with how the story is written. The piece quotes three women who decided to hide their identities. The first is a PE teacher, the second is a university professor, and the third is a “Saudi girl.” Two things: a) how could the editors pass a piece with three anonymous sources and not raise a flag? b) no offense to the three women, but I see no reason why they refused to be identified. I could cut the girl some slack, but not the the teacher and the professor. The way they put it makes you think they were revealing state secrets or something. Sheesh.

Egypt is Free

One month ago, when I wrote Tunisia is free, I hoped for a domino effect to sweep the Middle East. I didn’t really expect that to happen, but that was my hope anyway. And oh boy, how little did I know. What followed Tunisia was Egypt. If what happened in Tunisia was huge, then what happened in Egypt was is enormous by all standards. I don’t think anybody even imagined any of this few months ago. This country is the most populous Arab country, the cultural heart of the Arab world. And it was the youth of Egypt who did it. We are in for some interesting times in the Middle East, and I can’t wait to live them. Before I leave you with this brief video that I shot of Egyptians and Arabs celebrating in Queens, allow me to say that I’m extremely proud of my Egyptian friends: Alaa, Manal, Mona, Wael, Sandmonkey, Noha, Shahi, Eman, Ahmad, Wael, Gamal, and all the heroes of this revolution. You have given the world a great example for peaceful protest and nonviolent resistance, and you have been inspiration for all of us.