Royal Mixing

King and Royal Prince with women

Amidst the current debate and controversy over gender mixing that is taking place in the country, this picture made it to the front pages of some local newspapers today. The picture shows King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan surrounded by female participants at the National Dialogue in the southern city of Najran. Although the photo was taken on April 11, it was only published today which may indicate the green light to publish it was only obtained recently. Al-Watan daily published what they called the story of the picture, along with the full names of the women who appear in it.

Bad, Bad Al-Watan (Updated)

UPDATE II 21/6/09: Jamal Khashoggi was not fired. He wrote an editorial today about the incident, saying “maybe what the Prince wanted to tell us is that there are many good things that you can do to serve this nation, and that is what we are going to do.”

UPDATE 21/6/09:There are conflicting reports regarding Khashoggi. Some sources confirm that he was fired, and some other sources deny it. I’m told he is unreachable because he is outside the country on vacation.

UPDATE 20/6/90: It has been confirmed that Jamal Khashoggi, the editor-in-chief of al-Watan, has been fired after the incident. This is the second time Khashoggi is fired of this job; the first one was in 2003.

For a long time I made no secret of my frustration with the policy of closing shops for prayer time, and also the fact that some government employees use prayer as an excuse to neglect their jobs. Actually, I posted about this more than four years ago. As the margin for freedom of expression is slowly increasing, the local press is finally getting the courage to discuss this matter, with a few articles appearing here and there. Here’s one of these articles that was published in al-Watan last week. Since the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is the body responsible for enforcing this policy, I don’t think this will change anytime soon.

But speaking of the Commission and al-Watan, something interesting happened a few days ago. The Commission held an event in Riyadh last Tuesday to celebrate launching a strategic plan for the Hay’a. The ceremony was under the patronage of Prince Naif, the Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, and after the ceremony there was a press conference where reporters had a chance to ask him about all kinds of issues.

The last questions in the press conference was by Mohammed Nasser al-Asmari, who writes a column for al-Watan. He asked the minister to explain why Riyadh has more Commission centers than police centers. Prince Naif said this is untrue, “and may God increase [the Commission centers],” he added, and then he went on to criticize the newspaper saying they have bad intentions, and that they attract writers against the faith and against the nation.

Al-Watan, which is considered one of the more liberal Arabic-langauge newspapers in the country, has strangely omitted the criticism from their coverage of the event that was leading their front page on Wednesday. Some observers have expressed their fear that the relative freedom al-Watan enjoyed since its inception might be coming to an end.

Adwan al-Ahmari, the reporter whose name appears in the byline of the story, told me the newspaper did not include that question in their coverage because al-Asmari is an opinion writer who does not represent the newspaper and that he was speaking for himself only. While I understand the choice the editors made here, I’m not sure if this was the best choice. Ignoring that comment raises questions about their transparency and credibility at a time when they really needed to emphasize such values.


Speak of the Devil…

That was fast. Only a few minutes after posting this, look what I found: Hamza Al Mozainy is very disappointed at Sheikh Salman Al Awdah for an article about Eid Al Fitr that he wrote for Al Jazirah daily which included what can be considered hate speech. Al Mozainy has denounced in particular the use of the term ‘raifdah’ to describe Shiite Muslims. “[I]t is not meant as a description but rather discrimination against a group of Muslim Saudi citizens,” he said.

Just like Al Mozainy, I found it very surprising that Al Awdah, a sheikh that has become known for his moderation and tolerance, would say something like that. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t some sort of a misunderstanding or misquoting, so I went to Al Jazirah website to read the article myself. You can find it here, and unfortunately that paragraph Al Muzaini quoted is there.

Still, I had a feeling that there was something wrong. I went to Islam Today, a website supervised by Salman Al Awdah himself, where you can find most of his published articles and media appearances. I found the same article, but the paragraph about the Shiites was no where to be found. What is going on here? Did Al Awdah write that paragraph or not? Is it possible that an editor in Al Jazirah has added the paragraph to the article without the knowledge of Al Awdah?

In an email exchange earlier this morning, Al Mozainy told me it is unlikely that someone at Al Jazirah would have the audacity to edit the article. However, “it is the responsibility of Al Awdah to clarify this,” he added. I have emailed Sheikh Salman Al Awdah asking about the issue and I have yet to receive a response. If he responded I will update this post.