Abdullah al-Eyaf, Ahmed Bin Baz

  • If you enjoyed reading about Abdulmohsen al Mutairi and young Saudi filmmakers, you probably want to read this interview with director Abdullah Al-Eyaf. His latest film, “Ayesh,” has been well received and won the first award of the Gulf Film Festival that was recently held in Dubai.
  • In the second part of a series on Saudi Arabia, GlobalPost runs this piece by Caryle Murphy who profiles the upstart scholar Ahmed Bin Baz. I have been reading for the young Bin Baz for a while now, so I’m not surprised by the opinions he offers in this interview. However, I’m a bit surprised to see Dr. Mohammed al-Hodaif, father of the late Hadeel al-Hodaif, likens Bin Baz to Paris Helton in the sense that he is using his father’s name to become famous. Totally uncalled for.

Filmmakers, open letter to MoDo, muttawa hunt

  • Whenever someone asks me what interesting things Saudis are doing, I tell them to look at our rising group of young filmmakers. They are determined, passionate, and hardworking. Abu Dhabi’s The National caught up with my friend Abdulmuhsen al Mutairi when he was shooting his latest short film. “If you believe in art, you can make something, and in the beginning you will make very low, medium-quality work,” he said. “But if you continue to learn from your mistakes and the reviews of your audience, you will have something.”
  • Sarah Haji at MMW has an open letter to Maureen Dowd regarding her latest Vanity Fair travel piece about Saudi Arabia. “So unless you’re a self-righteous Times columnist with a history of thinking that thousands of years of culture and tradition should tremble in your Western wake, you should attempt not to project all of your customs onto another people,” Sarah writes.
  • Eman al-Nafjan aka Saudiwoman announced last week she was taking a break from her blog. Then she discovered she just can’t be away from the blog. How cute is that? So on her comeback post, she takes an expat friend who is about to leave the country to the mall on a Muttawa hunt. They got lucky in Riyadh Gallery, where they had a chance to witness a classic CPVPV raid on shoppers. Good times.

The Saudi Moon Boat

The Saudi pavilion at Shanghai’s World Expo has proven very popular, some people who want get in started faking disabilities in order to avoid waiting time that could reach up to nine hours. “While the opening weeks at Expo saw surprisingly low attendance, Saudi Arabia’s pavilion has emerged as among the most popular,” WSJ’s China Realtime Report blog said. One of the main attractions in the Saudi pavilion, nicknamed the “moon boat,” is its 1,600-square-meter movie screen. Considering that movie theaters are not allowed in the country, this is actually pretty ironic. But hey, that’s Saudi Arabia for you: full of contradictions and paradoxes your head will start uncontrollably spinning. You’re welcome.

Bonus: Suzanne Seldess visited Mada’in Saleh in April, and she came back with some really nice pictures. Check them out.

  • We have no movie theaters, but that won’t stop young Saudis from making movies. BBC has a short reportage about these young men. I have met most of these guys who appear in this reportage, and got a chance to watch some of their work. They are talented, creative, and determined. Too bad that our government refuses to acknowledge their talent.

  • And speaking of Saudi talents, here’s that latest single from ReD CoasT, a band from Jeddah:

  • Surprise! Surprise! BAE Systems will plead guilty to offenses of false accounting to settle bribery allegations made over al-Yamamah arms deals. BAE will pay $400m but only in the US, and not in the UK where the SFO dropped their investigation into al-Yamamah due to a request by former prime minister Tony Blair.

Nothing Changed

In November 1979, Juhayman al-Otaibi and his fellow zealots occupied the Grand Mosque in Makkah. After a bloody siege that lasted for two weeks, they were eventually captured and shortly beheaded. Following this event, Saudi Arabia experienced a scary rise of conservatism and the social liberalization that had begun in the 60’s and 70’s was halted or even rolled back. Women were no longer allowed on national TV, and restrictions on their employment and participation in public life became so harsh.

It is July 2009, more than 900 suspects were charged with participating in terrorist attacks in the country over the past few years. In landmark trials, more than 330 people in 179 cases had been tried and one given the death sentence. While these trials are still in progress, several restrictions to a freer access to culture and entertainment have been put in place, including a ban on cinema and cancellation of the Jeddah Film Festival.

What a difference 30 years make?

Let Them Protest

Riyadh witnessed a comeback for cinema after 30 years of absence. Menahi, a movie produced by Alwaleed’s Rotana, was opened to public in King Fahad Cultural Center (KFCC) last week. I was curious to see how this was going to play out, but not curious enough to actually go there myself. The main reason for missing on this “historical event,” as some called it, is because I dislike Faiz al-Malki (the rumors about his assassination are false btw, he is alive and well, shooting a TV series in Taif). I believe I’m free to dislike al-Malki, and also free to express that dislike in any way I deem appropriate. Look, I just did exactly that in this paragraph. Some people go to extreme measures to express their opinions, and that’s also fine, as long as they don’t cause physical harm to others or damage property. It’s called freedom of expression.

That being said, I was not surprised to read that several groups of young men attempted to disrupt the movie’s showings at KFCC, by trying to persuade moviegoers to leave in order to close down the show. We have seen this kind of behavior before in the book fair, Yamama College theater, and other places.

Dawood al-Sherian does not like how the local media covered what happened this time, or more specifically how columnists and opinion writers like him talked about it. He thinks that most writers have linked between the behavior of these young men with terrorism. “They almost made it look like a plot by al-Qaeda,” he wrote. He says that if the writers support the return of cinema as a form for freedom of expression, then they should welcome the reaction of those men in the same spirit.

I agree with him that linking this behavior to terrorism and al-Qaeda is unfair, but I don’t think it is far-fetched to link it to extremism. I don’t know about you, but I really think there is something extreme about trying to convince people to leave and close down the show. I admit it is hard sometimes to draw the line between what is accepted as freedom of expression and what is not, but in this case it seems easy enough. The young men should have been allowed to hold their protests outside KFCC, under the eyes of the police to make sure that things don’t get out of control. Now of course Dawood al-Sherian would never say such thing, probably because his limits are different than mine, or simply because he knows that public demonstrations are not allowed here.

Although I’m not sure if/how this would work, but I think that if they were allowed to express their disapproval this way they won’t feel it necessary to go extreme and try to stop the show, or start vandalizing and destroying like what happened in Jouf where they burned a tent prepared for literary events.

Decades of fundamentalist religious propaganda have made the concept of “freedom of expression” seems very alien to our culture, but that does not mean it truly is. This is a universal basic human right; it was not invented by the infidel West. Some Saudi pseudo-liberals claim that too much freedom of expression is bad — even dangerous — for this country, simply because it would give their opponents more rights that these opponents are trying to deny the rest of us now. That’s a fallacy. The real test of how sincere we are about freedom of expression is in how much we are willing to tolerate those we disagree with.