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Reform in Saudi Arabia?? 5, February 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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In recent weeks I have written about the apparent trend in Saudi Arabia of slowly relaxing their draconian anti-female laws. A change in the law forbidding women staying alone in hotel rooms and the formation of the Kingdom’s first women’s charity augured well. However, it appears as if it is just that – an apparent trend – and not an actual one. The Arab News interviews a women who was arrested for having a coffee in a public place – Starbucks, by the way – with a man who was not her husband. She was arrested, put in jail, denied the right to call her husband, and forced to sign a pre-written confession before her husband, who found about her imprisonment vicariously, could pull some strings to get her released.

She was arrested by the Saudi religious police who enforce so-called morality laws in the Kingdom. They arrived – in their USA built GMC suburban, by the way – and hauled her off as well as the Syrian business partner she was having a drink with. He, incidentally, has yet to be released.

Time will tell if despicable instances like this are the last throws of the retrograde and draconian Saudi religious police. One can only hope so. However, their place in society is firmly rooted and intertwined with the very formation of Saudi Arabia itself. From the very birth of the Saudi Kingdom, the Wahabbi religious authorities provided the al Saud’s with the religious legitimacy to create, expand, consolidate and maintain the Kingdom, whilst in return, the al Saud’s provided al Wahhab’s followers the mechanisms of the state with which to propagate their version of Islam, both at home and abroad. Thus, there is going to be no swift extrication of Saudi society from the clutches of the religious lobby who’s interest is historically and practically based in maintaining their grip on Saudi society as a whole.

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=106499&d=5&m=2&y=2008

 

Progress in Saudi Arabia for women’s rights 29, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia, Western-Muslim Relations.
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The government of Saudi Arabia have sanctioned the creation of a charity championing women’s rights in the Kingdom. The Ministry of Social Affairs have initially allowed the creation of a charity called ‘Ansar al-Maraah’ (supporters of women). According to Arab News, the goals of the charity are to “help women improve their social, educational and cultural levels.” This comes at a time when Saudi appear to be vacillating between creating a more open society with announcements such as this one, and closing off Saudi society, as the pressure on Al-Jazeera to tone down its criticisms of the Kingdom suggests.

Saudi reforms: one step forward, many back 25, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, Saudi Arabia.
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In recent weeks, there have been promising signs emanating from Riyadh suggesting that the countries’ draconian policies towards women were being relaxed. Firstly, as reported here, there was the small announcement that women may stay alone in hotels in the Kingdom, so long as they have some kind of photo ID which will then be registered with the local police. Whilst this may not seem like much of a victory for women’s rights, it is certainly a start. Furthermore, later on that week there was the unconfirmed and then apparently conformed story that Saudi Arabia will let women drive ‘by the end of the year’. Needless to say, this would be a large step forward for women’s rights in the country.

However, it has just been revealed by NPR news that that there was a meeting last autumn between Saudi and Qatari representatives where Saudi officials demanded that AL-Jazeera be ‘brought to heel’.

Since Al Jazeera’s inception in 2001, it has been a breath of critical and relatively even-handed fresh air in a region traditionally full of news outlets bought and paid for by parties and governments. Al Jazeera, therefore, was a shock to governments around the region and especially Riyadh, where they were seen to be particularly critical.

However, Mustafah Alani, a UAE based analyst comments that since the growth of Iran as a potential regional problem, the Sunni countries across the Gulf have, to a greater or lesser degree, banded together to counter Iran. One casualty of this has been the Qatari based and funded Al Jazeera. Alani maintains that the Qatari government, at the behest of Saudi Arabia, has lent on Al Jazeera to tone down its criticisms of the Kingdom.

Peter Kenyan of NPR also refers to the imprisonment of one of Saudi’s most famous bloggers, Fouad al Farhan, as another example of a crackdown on free speech and the media. In an interview with Professor Bin Hashim, he describes his arrest as a ‘hot stove policy’ which is to say that by arresting one blogger, the authorities hope that this will act as a warning to others not to cross ‘the line’.

 

Saudi driving ban to be lifted 23, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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It is official: the law banning women from driving in Saudi Arabia is to be lifted ‘by the end of the year,’ a government official has claimed. However, there are still issues to be resolved. Practicalities such as insurance, setting up schools for younger women to learn how to drive, not to mention the thorny question of whether women must, for safety reasons, remove the veil when driving, could still cause problems and delays in implementation.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/01/21/wsaudi121.xml.

Saudi laws relax…a bit 22, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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If you are a single woman in Saudi Arabia, now you can go and stay in a hotel by yourself. Houra! Obviously, this is only if you have photo ID, which will then be shown to the police, but still, it is a start.