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!
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Unacceptable

Sheikh Namer al-Namer is back at it again. After his idiotic statements last summer he was detained for a while and later released, but he was banned from leading prayers and speaking in public. The recent tension in Madinah made him break the restrictions and he came out with even more idiotic statements.

In a speech he gave last Friday in a mosque in Awwamiyah, Sheikh al-Namer said that Shia should seek independence if the government continues its discrimination against them. “Our dignity is above the unity of this country,” he added.

What a moron!

Instead of trying to sooth the tension and calm the public down, he is openly calling for a civil war. During difficult times you expect some people to step up and rise to the occasion, show wisdom and leadership. Unfortunately, we have seen none of that during this crisis. Both the government and Shia leaders have failed to show the needed sense of responsibility to deal with the incidents and their aftermath.

However, I’m glad that I’m not alone in rejecting al-Namer’s divisive statements. People like Tawfeeq al-Saif has come out to denounce these statements. “They are totally rejected,” al-Saif said. There are conflicted reports on the web regarding the fate of al-Namer after his fiery speech. Some websites say he was arrested, others say he managed to escape the security forces that came to arrest him.

He will be arrested and then he will be released. But the truth is that his words will harm the Shia community and the national unity in Saudi Arabia much more than they will cause him harm.

On Madinah

I did not want to write about the tension in Madinah over the past few days and the reason is simply because there was no reliable, trusted news sources that I can use to draw any conclusions or make an informed opinion. Mainstream media were sticking to the official story which, as usual, played dumb and pretended that it was no big deal. Websites on both sides, Shia and Sunni, were extremely biased and that was expected considering the sectarian nature of the incidents.

So what is the truth about the tension in Madinah? I’m not sure if anybody knows.

But here is what I know: what happened is serious and unacceptable under any circumstances. All parties involved were supposed to respect where they are and exercise some form of self-restraint. The Prophet’s Mosque is Islam’s second most holy site, and the least they could do is to emulate the prophet manners and ideals. Sadly, they all failed to show any respect to this great religion that they claim to represent.

Now I could delve into some of the disturbing details, or cast blame on either party, or analyse the long lasting effects of these sorry incidents. But I don’t want to do that because it will not make any difference.

Let me just finish by saying this: I’m truly and deeply ashamed to see what happened in Madinah. It should not have happened, and we must make sure it will not happen again.

P.S. I’m turning off comments because I will be traveling with my family for a couple of days. I will turn them on after I come back. Comments are back. Please be rational and respectful. Offensive comments will not be tolerated.

Form for the Other Saudis

I don’t care if Mohammed al-Mussaed, aka Green Tea, and his likes call me a rafidi because the opinion of extremists is not of value to me. Now of course people like him would argue that “rafidi” is not meant as a sectarian slur but merely a description, but to me as well as many others this term has very negative connotations because it has been used for a very long time to degrade the group of Muslims to which I belong. But as I said, I could not care less.

What I care about, though, is how the government treat those so-called “rafida.” I expect our government to treat all citizens with justice and equality. This is what King Abdullah promised this nation, “a land of justice and moderation far removed from hatred and extremism.” And I still vividly remember his first speech as a King when he vowed justice for all.

When I was a young student, I was taught in school that all citizens of Saudi Arabia are Muslims, period. That’s why none of the official forms and papers used for Saudis here contain an item for religion. If you are a Saudi, you are automatically, er naturally, a Muslim. Or at least this is what I thought until I stumbled upon this form:

Form for Saudis

This form bears the logo of the Ministry of Health and it is used by the directorate of health affairs in Ahssa for those who apply for a job at government’s hospitals. The headline in this form clearly states: “Form for Saudis.” However, a few lines underneath that title there is a space where applicants are required to provide their religion and sect. So what’s going on here? Is this form only used in Ahssa or is it used throughout the Kingdom? I don’t know, but I can confirm that this form is not fake because I personally know someone who had to fill it when he applied for a job.

I have heard many people talk about sectarian discrimination at the healthcare sector in my hometown of Ahssa, but as a good citizen I always choose to ignore them and believe the government who insist that they don’t discriminate on sectarian basis. I would like to think that there no such thing as institutionalized discrimination here, but I think there are some individuals who use their power to pass discriminatory practices.

In this era of sectarian strife that is taking the region, it is high time for our nation to eliminate all practices conveying prejudices and for the government to take strong measures to stop discrimination on all levels. It is only with unity and solidarity that we are able to stand and overcome the challenges facing our country. Now let’s put the words into action.

Justice and Common Sense

As the new reforms on the legal system are yet to be implemented, I guess that some judges thought they would use whatever left of time for the current system to demonstrate their misjudgment and lack of intelligence. It was not enough for them to sentence the Qatif girl to 90 lashes a year ago, so they decided to more than double the number of lashes plus six months of jail. The girl is a rape victim, but apparently being raped is not enough to spare her the punishment for something called ‘khulwa’.

Now what kind of ‘khulwa’ that would take place in front of a crowded shopping mall is beyond my comprehension, but that’s just me. I’m pretty sure our esteemed judges and those who support this bizarre ruling have many justifications to present upon request, but then again, who on earth am I to question a court which uses the word ‘sharia’ to legitimize their decisions no matter how absurd these decisions are?

Some people have asked me why I have not written about this earlier, and the reason is because I was angry, disgusted and depressed. Those following me on Twitter have probably seen this, and although I have been discussing the issues with my family and friends who share the same feelings with me, I could not bring myself to write about it without using some kind of language that I’d rather not to use on the blog.

The victim’s lawyer Abdul Rahman Al Lahem has been suspended from the case and faces a disciplinary session because the judge thinks that Al Lahem was using the media to affect the court’s ruling. Now how can the media be used to affect the ruling is anyone’s guess, but why should the judge be affected by the media might be something we should be looking at, because as far as I have been told, our right honorable judges are very wise men who claim to base their verdicts on Qura and Sunna, not some blabbering in the media. Anyway, it is not the first time that Al Lahem faces a problem like this. He has been jailed before for defending reformists but he continued his work as Saudi Arabia’s most important human rights lawyer.

It is up to the appeal court now to confront this unjust ruling and finish the suffering of the girl and her husband who bravely stood up beside his wife. Otherwise, this case might require the interference of the king in order for justice and common sense to prevail. Let’s hope they will prevail in the end.

Related links:

Speak of the Devil…

That was fast. Only a few minutes after posting this, look what I found: Hamza Al Mozainy is very disappointed at Sheikh Salman Al Awdah for an article about Eid Al Fitr that he wrote for Al Jazirah daily which included what can be considered hate speech. Al Mozainy has denounced in particular the use of the term ‘raifdah’ to describe Shiite Muslims. “[I]t is not meant as a description but rather discrimination against a group of Muslim Saudi citizens,” he said.

Just like Al Mozainy, I found it very surprising that Al Awdah, a sheikh that has become known for his moderation and tolerance, would say something like that. I wanted to make sure there wasn’t some sort of a misunderstanding or misquoting, so I went to Al Jazirah website to read the article myself. You can find it here, and unfortunately that paragraph Al Muzaini quoted is there.

Still, I had a feeling that there was something wrong. I went to Islam Today, a website supervised by Salman Al Awdah himself, where you can find most of his published articles and media appearances. I found the same article, but the paragraph about the Shiites was no where to be found. What is going on here? Did Al Awdah write that paragraph or not? Is it possible that an editor in Al Jazirah has added the paragraph to the article without the knowledge of Al Awdah?

In an email exchange earlier this morning, Al Mozainy told me it is unlikely that someone at Al Jazirah would have the audacity to edit the article. However, “it is the responsibility of Al Awdah to clarify this,” he added. I have emailed Sheikh Salman Al Awdah asking about the issue and I have yet to receive a response. If he responded I will update this post.