More and more on women driving

  • Photographer Reem Al Faisal mocks the ban on women driving in Arab News by calling women to start riding… camels. “OK, we give up and allow the men to drive cars and allow us what was never denied our grandmothers – camels. Let every household own as many camels as they wish or can afford. Open up schools to teach women how to ride and house and maintain a camel.”
  • Head of the human rights committee in the Shoura Council said the topic of women driving is not open to discussion, even though some citizens have presented a petition to the Council about it. “Women driving is a minor issue,” he said. “It is not a priority for the Council.” This contradicts what his boss said last week. I will ask again: why are we talking about this as if Shoura matters?
  • Farzaneh Milani: “The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their “proper place.””
  • Good to see Saudi comedians featured in the New York Times. They are doing some really interesting, creative work. They deserve all this attention and more. Related: my piece on the rise of Arab American standup comedy.
  • This chart from The Economist has been making the rounds on the interwebs. It basically shows the biggest military spenders in the world. According to the chart, Saudi Arabia spends 10.4% of its GDP on defence.
  • Last week I started a summer internship at NPR in Washington DC. My first byline on appeared on their website last Saturday. You can read the story here. As an intern, I’m not allowed to post opinion online. I will still be posting stuff here, just not my personal opinions.
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Runaway woman, La Yekthar, Wikileaks, censorship, sectarian violence, and more

  • In a story that would probably work perfectly for a Saudi action movie, a woman in her twenties has fled her husband and lived for two months in the guise of a man, mixing in male company, driving a car, and praying with males in the mosque.
  • Meanwhile, my good friends Fahad al-Butairi and Ali al-Kalthami continue to impress with their comedy show La Yekthar. Below is the second episode. Can’t wait to watch the next one.

  • Wael says “It is no wonder that Saudis moved into the cyberspace to vent out their frustrations and dreams; nowadays, they are all over the social networks talking about their daily lives, sharing links with friends and even organizing some kind of virtual remonstrations on twitter, Facebook and blogs.”
  • Faisal Abbas: “You see, what this cable is telling us is that an American informer based in Riyadh actually sent back classified information to his superiors in Washington DC to say that Saudis watch and enjoy American television programs. Seriously? Did it really require an informer to “discover” this? What’s next, a team of American anthropologists revealing that Saudis eat at McDonalds? Drive GMCs? Or Wear Levi’s?”
  • The holy city of Medina has witnessed some sectarian violence last week on Ashura. I was sad to hear the news, but I couldn’t wait to see how local media would cover the event considering its sensitive nature. Not surprisingly, none of the local papers wrote about the real reason behind the violence. This kind of censorship can lead to a hilarious form of reporting, if we can call it such. Take this gem from al-Riyadh daily for example:

    Informed sources have asked the authorities to shut down some websites that have continued to instigate the two parties at certain times by historically linking them to ancient events and demanding to retaliate from the grandchildren under banners that incite differences to serve suspicious parties that aim to shake the stability in the land of security and safety. Some imapassioned young men from the neighborhood who were dressed in ‘black’ have followed these banners, broken into doors, and frightened the people, which made them resist and call the security forces who remained in the neighborhood until dawn.

    Here is an idea for Saudi media: if you can’t cover a story properly, don’t bother covering it at all. Okay?

  • Speaking of censorship, columnist Abdullah al-Maghlooth, who wrote a profile of yours truly a couple of months ago, is reportedly banned from writing after al-Watan daily published his latest article which posed an interesting question: “Who is the youngest official in Saudi Arabia?” I guess an old official didn’t like that question.
  • Apologies for the hiatus. Last week was the last week of the semester, which means I had a lot of work to finish, and I was also moving from my place in the Bronx to a new one near Columbia. A lot to catch up on. Here we go. Scroll up!

Miscellany from the past two weeks

  • So a couple of week ago, the Saudi Council of Senior Ulema issued a fatwa banning female cashiers. What happens next? Saudi Arabia gets a seat on the board of UN Women, the new United Nations super agency that is supposed to focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment. This is not a bad joke, as Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said. It’s a reality now. It’s been 20 years since 47 Saudi women led a protest in Riyadh to drive cars. They are still not allowed to drive.
  • Jamal Ghosn: “I am not worried about the stockpiling of weapons, since I’m not naive to think that ever stops. I’m not worried about a certain $60 billion purchase of weapons, although I do wonder what will be the return on investment when it’s sold as scrap metal.”
  • At the time when I’m getting lost in Manhattan to report stories about life in New York, my good friends Ali al-Khalthami and Fahad al-Butairi back home get to do awesome, fun stuff like this:
  • The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association have announced that they plan to sue the Ministry of Interior on behalf of all those banned from traveling without a legal sentence. The current list of travel bans include some prominent activists such as Abdullah al-Hamed and Matrouk al-Faleh.
  • A group of wildlife lovers in Riyadh are leading efforts to free an endangered Arabian Lynx that has been imprisoned in a pet shop in a small glass box with a hard, concrete floor for over 4 years. How can you help? Glad you asked. Go to this Facebook group, and contact the Saudi Wildlife Commission.
  • Anyone who lived in the western region of Saudi Arabia can talk to you for hours about how great and delicious AlBaik chicken is. People living in other parts of the country are out of luck as they don’t have any branches there. There are several theories that have been flying for years as to why AlBaik don’t open in other regions, including one that involves the richest Saudi man alive. Nobody, however, has confirmed information on the true reason behind this geographic conundrum for friend chicken lovers.
  • I know it’s almost mid November, but Lou K has a pretty good post about once a pretty “Saudi” October. Probably unrelated, but you also may want to read The skinny on Jeddah dating.
  • The Brookings Institution’s Doha Center has launched its 2010 essay contest. It’s designed only for students living/studying in the 22 Arab states between the ages of 20 and 30, and the hope is to identify talent for political analysis in the region, as well as provide an unprecedented and independent platform to share their views with political leaders and pundits, the media, and the public at large. The first place winner will receive $2000, the runner up $1000, and honorable mention(s) $500. You can find more details here.
  • Sorry about the hiatus. Been busy with school. Here is two examples from the stuff I’ve been working on.