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


Something is bothering me about Norah al-Faiz, the deputy minister of education. Sure, as the first Saudi woman to be appointed in such a senior position, she has come under a lot of attention, and maybe a lot of scrutiny. But I’m not talking about her performance as an official; I believe it is still early to evaluate her work, probably in the same way she thinks it is too early to talk about introducing sports to girls schools (it’s not, btw).

What is bothering me is this: Why does she keep referring to her Najdi roots every time someone asks about her allegedly “leaked” picture and the niqab? I believe she has every right to be proud of her roots, but I don’t think this is the right context to highlight them and associate the niqab with them. She serves in the ministry of education, she should be a role model. What kind of message does her statements send to teachers and students? Why can’t she just say that it’s a personal choice and that she expects others to respect it?

Now I could easily find her picture and put it in this post, but I’m respecting her wish in that she does not want her picture to be published. Is it too much to ask her to respect the rest of us who put their nation’s interests above their regional affiliation?