So few days ago in Dammam some members of the religious police somehow got the impression that they could storm a women’s public restroom on the courniche to arrest someone. They went in and moments later emerged dragging a girl who was crying, screaming and begging them to leave her alone. She tried to run away but fell on the ground. The Haya’a men apparently thought it was okay to hit and kick her, so they did that in the street while people were watching, then they carried her and threw her in the back of their jeep.

Al-Hayat daily, who published the story on Monday, said they tried to contact Haya’a offices and spokesmen in Dammam and Riyadh for comments but none of them returned the calls or text messages. Probably we were overoptimistic when we hoped that the new head of the religious police would keep his men under control. Probably.

UPDATE 23/12/09: According to al-Watan daily, the girl has been released. The newspaper quoted security sources who said the girl was arrested based on the suspicion of a khulwa, while the boy who allegedly was with her managed to escape. The haya’a in the EP declined to comment on the case. The police said they received the case and they are searching for the boy.

Cute T-shirts from Nada e-Shop

There are more female bloggers in Saudi Arabia than any other Arab country. We can probably argue over the reasons, but one of the reasons imho is that in the time that real life in the country poses many restrictions on women, the internet is offering an outlet for them where they can express themselves and show their colors to the world but also maintain a certain level of privacy and protection. Girls are not only using blogs to speak their minds, but also to showcase their talents, and even use these talents to make money. I have previously posted about iNouf’s laptop sleeves, and last week I came across another interesting example.

Welcome to Nada e-Shop, where brush + colors + t-shirt = drawn by hand, not printed artwork turned into business. Nada al-Mughaidi has graduated from the College of Education in Jubail, but her dream as a child was to become a cartoonist. She started drawing on t-shirts for her family and friends, who encouraged her to start a custom t-shirt business. In May 2008, Nada launched her blog and started taking orders. The blog also includes pages for rules, FAQs, and prices. She is based in Dammam, east of the country, but she shipping is available to any place inside and outside the Kingdom. What I really like is that every design is only produced once, so you will get a t-shirt like no other. The blog is in Arabic, but you can check out samples from Nada’s designs on her Flickr page.

First Saudi Film Festival

Guest blogger Lubna Hussain is currently in France enjoying the 61st Annual Cannes Film Festival. Meanwhile, the first film festival in Saudi Arabia started last Tuesday in Dammam. The Associated Press reports, “It’s a far cry from the glamour of Cannes: No celebrities strutting their stuff; an all-male audience drinking coffee and juice rather than champagne; and if any female spectators showed up – well, no one knew. They came in through a back entrance into a separate hall, off-limits to the male organizers.”

Still, I think it is good to see the event takes place. I really wanted to attend some of the films there over the weekend, but unfortunately I’m stuck here in Riyadh for another week or so. The AP report carried this paragraph that made me feel like laughing and crying at the same time:

Information Minister Eyad Madani attended the festival Tuesday, giving the competition an unequivocal stamp of official approval. “There’s a debate over the issue of cinema and movies, and it’s a debate that should continue,” said Madani in a brief speech.

What debate the minister is talking about? The stupid debate over opening up cinema theaters in the country, like the debate over women’s driving, has gone way longer than it should. The government should step up and show its citizens and the world that they are not to be held back by a group of backward lunatics who, if it was up to them, would like to take us back to the Middle Ages. It is about time.