NSHR new report, Crown Prince health, Madawi and Nail Polish Girl

  • The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) published their third report on the human rights situation in the country. Their previous two reports were well received, and this one will probably get the same reception. The report’s main theme is that the government executive bodies have failed to meet the ambitions of King Abdullah. At the end of the report, NSHR provided a list of recommendations including suggestions for partial elections of the Shoura Council as well as limiting transgressions by security forces and CPVPV members against citizens. Full text of the report in Arabic is available here (PDF)
  • Crown Prince Naif left the country last week for “routine medical checkups,” according to the state news agency. His deputy, Prince Ahmad bin Abdulaziz, told local media Saturday that “Prince Naif is fine, I spoke with him last night. He is in good health and will come back soon.”
  • Madawi al-Rasheed says Nail Polish Girl is no hero because her confrontation with the Commission was not “grounded in demands for both personal freedoms and political and civil rights for men and women. Until then, Saudis and the rest of the world will continue to watch YouTube clips of futile disconnected incidents, grounded in sensationalism and imagined heroism,” she says. Rana Jarbou, on Twitter, disagrees: “I highly respect Madawi Al-Rasheed, but I find the ‘Nail Polish Girl’ more relevant to my plight as a ‪Saudi‬ woman.”

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.


Confusing Signals

More than two years after publishing their first report, the National Society of Human Rights (NSHR) published their second report, and I have to say that I am impressed. The report is written in a simple, clean, and professional language that should promote human rights principles among Saudi citizens.

The report criticized many government departments for their abuses of human rights, and also criticized the slow pace of reforms in judiciary as well as the performance of the Shoura Council. The full text of the report is available here (Arabic PDF). Arab News provides some highlights from the report.

I don’t think I need to talk in detail about the report. I already said that I was impressed and I really think the report speaks for itself. But I would like to point out to one interesting tidbit here.

As part of the remarks on the Shoura Council performance, the report called for electing the members instead of the current method of selection. The report also said there is a need to take effective steps to protect and promote women’s rights. But soon after the report was released, Interior Minister Prince Naif came out to say that Saudi Arabia has no need for women members of parliament or elections. Yesterday, Prince Naif was appointed as second deputy premier.

Now this is exactly the kind of mixed signals that makes the world question the commitment of our country to its much publicized reform plans, not to mention how it leaves the people confused about where their nation is heading. So what’s going on here? Frankly, I don’t get it. I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.