Women’s driving, woman ambassador, a pretty happy girl

  • Elaph quotes unnamed sources saying Saudi women will start driving their cars within two months. Watany mobile news service also quoted unnamed sources saying a meeting took place last week between a senior decision-maker and the Grand Mufti indicates that women’s driving is imminent. Also last week, al-Riyadh daily published a feature discussing how to implement women’s driving, which marks a transition from the typical “is it time for women to start driving or not?” Last month, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the minister of foreign affairs, told NYT columnist Maureen Dowd to bring her driving license next time she visits the country. However, Dowd told me in an email that she knows he was being sly and that driving is not going to be forthcoming.
  • Abdullah Aboul-Samh praises the Republic of Georgia for appointing a woman ambassador to Saudi Arabia. “It is a clear evidence on our civic advancement,” he adds. I’m sorry dude, but Georgia appointing a woman ambassador says nothing about us. Please wake me up when Saudi Arabia appoints a woman ambassador in Georgia.
  • Sabria S. Jawhar: “Like all Saudi women I appreciate the efforts by American and European human rights organizations to protect us from bad Saudi men and to help grant us the freedom we deserve. Without the help of Americans and Europeans my life would have no future. Okay, I’m lying. If Western do-gooders minded their own business I’d be a pretty happy girl.”

MOE hiring process, al-Nujaimi mingling saga

  • The Ministry of Education (MOE) is hiring. Out of the 34,000 people who applied for teaching jobs, only 21,000 managed to score more than 50% in the Qiyas test aka the Saudi SAT. Today, those 21,000 candidates were interviewed by MOE in order to “inspect their ideological tendencies.” What MOE means by the words between quote marks is actually this: make sure those teachers-to-be are not extremists who will spread their poison in schools and produce future terrorists. Sounds like a good idea, right? Not really. I mean, can’t those extremists conceal their extremism for a brief interview just to get the job? Can’t they pretend to be tree-hugging, peace-loving, dialogue-embracing, upstanding citizens for the duration of a short encounter with their potential employers?
  • Shiekh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, who once described segregation as one of the fundamentals on which the Saudi state was built and then took a U-turn after al-Shethri fiasco, was recently rumored to be mingling big time with unrelated women during a conference in Kuwait. Interestingly (or maybe not) al-Nujaimi has praised the infamous al-Barrak’s fatwa in which he called for opponents of the kingdom’s strict segregation of men and women to be put to death if they refuse to abandon their ideas. After pictures and videos of his mingling made their way to the web, he first denied what the pictures and videos suggested, and said some of them were photoshopped, which is something the organizers of the event considered so insulting that they threatened to sue him.


    Today, al-Nujaimi finally admitted that he mingled, but he said he did it for all the right reasons: to prevent vice and help those misguided women find the righteous path. This should go well with those women, I guess.

Mahmood’s Den No More

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This is long overdue, but better late than never…

My friend Mahmood al-Yousif, Bahrain’s blogfather, has decided to quit blogging after 5 years of enriching the Gulf cyberspace with his wisdom and humor. Mahmood’s Den was one of the first blogs in the region and one of the inspirations behind Saudi Jeans. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mahmood for the first time in Manama back in 2005, and then once again in Dhahran last year. I am sad to see him stop and I’m sure I will miss his intelligent witty comments, but now there is nothing I can do but wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

Dubai: Saudis and Britons

I was surprised when I read earlier this week that there are 5,000 Saudis living in Dubai. I’m not sure if this number is big or small, but I don’t think there is a larger Saudi community living abroad anywhere else. I can understand why, though. Beside the booming economy and the glitz, it is a place where they can lead a more normal life compared to the stifling, restrictive one back home. It is also just next door in case they needed to visit or return.

Many people in the Gulf feel that their countries are trying to catch up with Dubai, but not everyone is keen on remaking the Dubai story. A Saudi columnist recently wrote that we should not compare ourselves to Dubai because it is “too open” and we simply cannot — and should not — do the same.

However, many Saudis who live in the rapidly growing emirate quickly responded to him, passionately defending their new home and saying it could be true that Dubai is welcoming the world with wide open arms, but it is also offering choices their own country did not give them; better opportunities and much, much more freedom: no one would force you to live your life according to their whims and wishes.

The Daily Mail ran a long piece yesterday on the bad behavior of British expats in Dubai and how it could cause a backlash and a rise of religious extremism, suggesting that an act of violence would burst the D-bubble. So between the Saudis who want to enjoy a normal life and the Britons who move there to go wild, how can this city keeps its leadership in the region, economically and socially, and how its rulers will deal with the pains of growth?

Unsettling

Sheikh Namer al-Namer is a radical Shia cleric who enjoys a following in his little hometown of al-Awamiya in Qatif. If Sheikh Hasan al-Saffar represents the dominant and more tolerant, open-minded voice calling for unity and dialogue with the government, then Sheikh al-Namer stands at the other end of the Shia spectrum with some extreme views and a divisive message. As you might expect, his views didn’t win him many friends, especially in the government who has detained him several times over the past few years.

In his Friday sermon last week, Sheikh al-Namer talked about a possible war between the US and Iran. He asked Iran to reassure the neighboring countries that their peoples’ vital interest will not be compromised, and at the same time said that Iran has the right to defend itself. “They would definitely have the right to close the Straits of Hormuz, to destroy the Zionist entity and to hit American bases and its interests present all over the world,” he added.

Moreover, he said “We stand by Iran and we will do everything to support this country.”

Now of course Sheikh al-Nemer has the right to express his opinion in any issue he wants, but I don’t think the pulpit is the right place to promote his political agenda. I don’t know what the hell he was thinking, but the message he is sending here is certainly unsettling to many of his countrymen and reinforces the prejudices some of them already have regarding the loyalty of Saudi Shia to their homeland.

There are some efforts on both sides to soothe the sectarian tension, but unfortunately most of these efforts remain modest compared to the loud voices of extremists like al-Nemer and his counterparts on the other side of the divide. I believe moderates should work harder and join forces with the King who has repeatedly shown his commitment to dialogue and better understanding between the different trends in our society, as well as between all Muslims and between major faiths around the world.

We Like to Party!

My friend Mahmood has just found that Manama is at No. 8 on the list of Top 10 Sin Cities in the world. According to the website, our Bahraini brethren should thank us, the Saudis, for putting their capital on the international sin map:

Manama is a popular spot for Saudis to kick back from their country’s restrictive laws. Here they can get hammered, go clubbing, mingle with the opposite sex, and if they’re really daring, they can pick up prostitutes — a practice that’s illegal but widely available. For many Saudi males this proximity to an open culture is irresistible and many jam the causeway and fill flights to the city every weekend. Do you want to see what happens when Saudis cut loose and leave the rules behind? You may need to get in line.

We rock, don’t we?

Three Days in Cairo

When I boarded the plane for Cairo, my first impression was that Egypt Air seriously needs to consider a rebranding. The brand is tired and outdated, and it does not live up to the country’s reputation as a tourist destination that attracts millions of visitors every year.

But speaking of first impressions, I have to say I was taken aback when the customs officer checking my passport upon arrival shamelessly asked for a bribe with a big smile on his face. I decided to act as if I had no clue what he was talking about; a tactic that I’ve had come to use several times during the trip to avoid situations like this. The officer repeated his plea a few times more but finally relented and gave me my passport.

The 2-day workshop was interesting and informative. I have already read a lot about the experience of bloggers in Egypt, but listening to the bloggers themselves speak about it was refreshing and inspiring. My favourite speaker was Alaa Abdelfattah of manalaa.net, who impressed me with his presentation and comments, not to mention his dark sense of humor. Alaa said that we must focus on the social effect of technology and not the technical effect, which means it is not enough to say that blogging made it easier for people to publish online but the real question is what kind of effect this technology have on people’s lives.

Another interesting idea was that sometimes it is necessary to break the laws, especially repressive ones, in order to change them. This idea was underscored by the words of attorney Hamdi El Assuoti who applauded bloggers and activists. “By defying some of these laws, you have given lawyers a bigger margin to move and challenge these laws at courts and change the way some judges look at laws which limit freedom of expression,” he said.

The session I took part in focused on activism in the GCC countries. I could have talked about my blogging experience, but I preferred to talk about other examples of using the internet to support human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. Most of my talk was based on the work of my friend Khaled Al Nassir who was supposed to speak at the event but had to cancel his trip at the last minute. The other two speakers, from Oman and UAE, also talked about similar issues and personal experiences. The public discourse and the struggle for human rights and freedom of expression in the Gulf is probably still in its early stages compared to the rest of the Arab World, but I think that activists here are making good strides in that field.

In addition to exposure to good ideas and sharing personal experiences, events like this one is always a good occasion to meet amazing people like Mina, Rawdha, Amr, Anas, , Nora, and Abdullah; and I want to thank all of them and everyone else for the great time in Cairo.

Outside the workshop room, my Egyptian friends have been nice enough to hang out and show me the city. Ahmed and Courtney took me to Zamalek where we met the one and only Sandmonkey. Later on we went to Wist Al Balad, which is the area where activists do their activism.

At the end of the 2nd day, HRinfo.net invited all participants for a lovely dinner at the Greek Club. The service there was not exactly great, but having all those great people on one table was absolutely more than great. After the dinner, I went with some friends to Khan Al Khalili where I have to say that I was haunted by seeing poverty manifested in that “in your face” manner, something that I’m not used to. I don’t mean that we don’t have poverty in our country, but in order to see it you need to visit certain areas and neighborhoods and it is not something that you encounter on the streets on daily basis. It is a pity that a country which used to play a leading role in the enlightenment and progress of the region and have many great resources is languishing because of poor leadership and corrupt politics.

On my third day I went to see the Giza Pyramids, but I didn’t have much fun there because I had to go by myself as everyone else has either left or was busy with work. Later I went with a friend to Sequoia where we had lunch and enjoyed cool breeze of the Nile. My departure was not all that different from my arrival: the last custom officer checking my passport before boarding the plane to Riyadh also shamelessly asked for a bribe with a big smile on his face. I played my “no clue” card again. The officer asked what was wrong with me, to which I said: “yes, it’s you!”