Covering Up

Niqab-less Norah al-Faiz

Norah al-Faiz is supposed to be a symbol of progress in Saudi Arabia. She was appointed deputy minister of education by King Abdullah in February 2009, making her the kingdom’s highest-ranking female official. At the time, many observers hailed the move as a sign of reform.

But controversy has dogged Faiz since the beginning of her tenure. Continue reading at Foreign Policy

Update 6/27/2012: Saudi state press agency published this new photo of al-Faiz, reportedly taken in Riyadh last night during her visit to an Aramco cultural event. She is the first from the left in the black abaya.

Norah al-Faiz in Aramco cultural event in Riyadh

Saudi TV staff not paid, MOE strange transformation

  • Why state tv channels suck? Because people are not getting paid. Arab News says the producers and presenters of the early morning show “Good Morning Saudi Arabia” on Ch1 have not received their salaries for the last two months. The production company that makes the show said it has not been able to pay workers because it has not received payment from Saudi Television. I’m not surprised. I have heard many similar stories from people I know who have worked in the past with Ch1 and Ch2.
  • According to Saudi Gazette, a crowd gathered at the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Riyadh on Sunday to express their objections on “Shariah grounds” to the visit of deputy minister Norah al-Faiz to a boys’ school in Al-Zulfi last week. The Ministry issued a statement on Sunday saying that deputy minister Faisal Bin Mu’ammar met with the protesters who submitted a range of proposals related to the work of the ministry which will be studied. I can’t help but share the amazement of Khalaf al-Harbi at this soft stance and really strange transformation of MOE, which just a few days took a very strict, some even said aggressive, stance against the teachers who have been demanding the ministry for what many people view as fair demands.

MOE news, colorful abayas

  • The Ministry of Education has started investigating a school incident where a public high school teacher made his students play a theatrical scene representing detailed postmortem procedures like how to wash a dead person, cover him, and then laid him to rest. In other news, the ministry issued on Wednesday a circular to all schools in the Kingdom ordering that no music or dancing be allowed during upcoming graduation celebration, which must take place in the morning within the last three weeks of the academic year, and that no cameras should be allowed in schools. Last week I attended my brother graduation ceremony from intermediate school (that’s junior high for you American folks). The celebration took place at night, there was no dancing, and the music was “Islamic” aka nasheed. There were hundreds of cameras, including a video crew brought in by the school itself. Below is a video I took during the graduation:

  • Out of the 198 members of FIFA, only 32 countries can play in the World Cup in football (that’s soccer for you American folks) every four years. Saudi Arabia did not make it to the tournament that will take place in South Africa and starts on Friday. This, of course, will not stop business owners of trying to make money on the occasion anyway they can, including selling World Cup themed abayas. Non-black abayas was one of the topics which appeared in that now infamous MTV video. Speaking of such nonconformist abayas, Khalaf al-Harbi wrote a hilarious article earlier this week on Okaz about the Blue Abaya Controversy.

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.

Noura al-Faiz cut out, Op-Ed writers do interviews

  • So Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, the minister of education, had a meeting with teachers. Present at the meeting were senior officials at the ministry, including Noura al-Faiz. At the end of the meeting, photos were taken. Few days later, the PR department at the ministry published special print materials to mark the occasion. However, there was something wrong with the the cover photo: Noura al-Faiz has been cut out! Prince Faisal said he was unhappy that this happened.
  • Ashraf al-Fagih thinks it is so strange that an op-ed writer like him would do an interview. The writer in question is his fellow columnist in al-Watan daily Mahmoud Sabbagh, who prepared the questions for an interview with an STC executive that was published two weeks ago. I agree with most of what Ashraf says. Most Saudi journalists are unprofessional and lack basic skills. However, I don’t think that opinion writers are exempt from doing journalistic tasks like conducting research and doing interviews. Actually, I believe this must be at the heart of their writing.

They Know Better!

Abdullah Al-Obeid, the Minister of Education, is all over the front pages these days to brag about the new e-learning initiative his ministry has recently launched.

I think he can brag. After all, the man has single-handedly solved all the problems that have plagued our education system for decades. Female teachers no longer get killed on the road to their schools in God-forsaken remote places; all the textbooks have been fixed to be moderate and up-to-date; and extremist teachers have been kicked out for good.

That’s why it comes as no surprise to read about their latest genius decision: they will not issue any renewals for permission for Saudi students to attend international schools. Not that it was easy to enroll your kids in international schools in the past. I am told that it takes a hellova a wasta to do that, but now even your big ‘wow’ can’t save your kids from the Saudi education system.

Moreover, they say British schools will have to accept only British pupils, German schools German pupils, Indian schools Indian students, and so on. Nonsense. Because most international schools will not be able to operate without Saudi students who make up the bulk of enrollment.

Earlier this week, Tariq Al-Maeena published a letter from a distressed mother who says she would rather have her kids home schooled or move to Dubai or Bahrain. I don’t know what MOE has to say about the reasons behind their ruling, but in a country where the government think they can tell you what (or what not) to name your kids, it is only understandable that they know what’s best for the kids once it is time for them to go to school.