Posts Tagged ‘Saudi society’

The Same Old Line, Again!

06/11/2012

Prince Turki Al-Faisal is a well-known figure inside and outside of Saudi Arabia since he headed for many years the Saudi Intelligence Directorate and then was the Saudi ambassador to the US. He was educated in the US and the international media interview him regularly. In his last interview with the Saudi-US Relations Information Service, he talked about different subjects that included oil and the future of power generation in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi-US relations, the Syrian Revolution, Iran and the reforms in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Turki said in the interview “But on the whole the government and the people are going forward”. The example he used to prove his point was allowing female lawyers to practice law before the judges in Saudi courts. I read about this story in the Saudi media, yet I am not sure if it is already happening on the ground. Isn’t interesting, by a mean or another, that such an example is used to demonstrate “moving forward”? I hope next time no one will start talking about allowing women to go to schools as an example of “going forward”.  All what this says to me is to keep the bar very low and not to expect much because the very normal is hailed as something great!

He added “I have referred to the reform issue in Saudi Arabia as coming about not because of religious fatwa or government decree, but more because of the change of society itself”. The Prince here is using the same old line used over the years to get around the issue of reforms in Saudi Arabia. It is very easy to blame the society alone rather than, at least, admitting that the responsibility for the status quo of no reforms in the country is shared among all parties including the society. I personally think that since the government monopolized the society for many years, in corporation with the religious establishment, it can be easily blamed for the lack of progress. Using such old argument is a proof that there are no intentions for real reforms. Yet, it is better to be hit by reality rather than keeping some false hopes.

It is funny though that the interviewer did not ask Prince Turki “When would the society be ready? and what does the government plan to do to help the society to be ready, someday?”. I wish someone let me know who responsibility is if the society is not ready for about eighty years and rather than moving forward, the society seems stand still for ages.  For years, the government kept a blind eye on acting on some real issues  and with all what is going around and inside the country it is astonishing to use the same old lines again!.

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I am a Dreamer

09/07/2011

For ages the question about the suitability of democracy in the Arab and Islamic countries was raised. With the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, the question is coming back with hopes and fears of what path these revolutions will take. During my trip to Germany I attended the Global Media Forum organized by Deutsche Welle where many of the attendees showed a lot of interest in knowing more about what is going on. Many questions were raised such as; why they are happening? Why the Gulf countries are not seeing such revolutions and how these revolutions will shape the future of the region and, probably, the world and many more other questions. I enjoyed the discussions with people from around the globe. Yet during three different occasions, three Arab attendees insisted that Arabs are not ready for democracy. Two of them were so pessimistic about the chances of implementing democracy in the Arab World. They predicted that democracy will not flourish in this region before 50 to 300 years. My response to them was “My daughter Joori is about six years old; I hope, wish and want her to participate in the elections of the Saudi Parliament before she is twenty six years old”. Am I dreaming? Sure. But what is life without dreams?

Saudi Arabia is known to be the biggest oil producer and it possesses largest oil reserves in the world. Parts of the financial returns of selling the oil helped in establishing the country’s infrastructure, raised the level of education among the citizens and enlarged the middle class significantly. On the other hand, the country suffers on many other aspects. Saudis live under strong security grip and corruption is unprecedented. The performance of many government entities and agencies is generally below the expectations of citizens. About half of the population is below 25 years old and many of them are unemployed.

The Saudi society values are partially inspired by Islam which is demonstrated in some occasions through positive behaviors such as assisting the needy, dignity, magnanimity and others. Yet, the society has been suffering from issues such as racism, sectarianism, favoritism, the situation of women and others. As a result of all of these issues, there are portions of Saudis (that cannot be really quantified due to lack of data) who agree on the need for change. However, the details and direction of such desired change are not agreed upon and can be very controversial.

The above is a personal attempt to reflect the reality of Saudi Arabia today. Such reality is also shaped and impacted by the structure of the state and society and the relationship between them. When the power is limited to the hands of a few while the vast majority of people do not have much of influence on the country present and future, in addition to the weak – or lack of – feeling of citizenship and feelings of belonging, we find that we are facing a complex reality which might at any moment lead to unexpected developments that no one can expect their extent or outcomes.  Also, the society’s view of itself and the quality of relationships within it and its relationship to the state and its system helps in the formation of the current image of Saudi Arabia and increases the difficulties for the change or major developments.

With such gloomy view, some may find it impossible to think about democracy in a country with all of these challenges and complications. But the world around us today clearly shows that democracy is the most effective system of governance through an agreed upon Constitution that enforces the separation of powers, equality of all citizens and the participation of the people in choosing their representatives freely. Thus we, in Saudi Arabia, either belong to the faction of people, who use democratic means to rule, or we are totally different than that faction and we actually belong to another faction that has nothing to do with a majority of human beings on this planet. Can we be so different?.

I personally think that the pursuit of democracy in Saudi Arabia would be one way to address the serious structural defects in the state and society. The struggle to democratization in Saudi Arabia will help facing what must be changed and reformed through the interaction of citizens with their problems and working together to confront them and find solutions. For example, nowadays discussing the issue of the detainees for long periods without trial is widespread in the channels of the new media in Saudi Arabia which demonstrates that concepts such as the state of institutions and rights began to spread among younger generation who are the group that will make the future on their own and will be making the changes that they want despite the enormous challenges that might be faced.

But democracy today, to me personally, is not an end in itself but a means for the result I want to see in Saudi Arabia. I do not care much how long it will take as long as we will be able to move in the direction I hope for my country. The future dream I see for Saudi Arabia is a modern state that ensures public participation and equality of all citizens and at the same time economically able to face the enormous challenges ahead of the country. The road to democracy in Saudi Arabia will also be a means to dismantle parts of the obstacles and barriers that have been injected into the body of the state and society and resulted our present. What we live in today is the result of long years of mistakes that will not disappear automatically, but will need the hard work and real participation of everyone, or at least the believers in the necessity of change and who those willing to pay the price to get it.

When talking about democracy, usually the discussion involves talking about the West and the liberties practiced there which might be in contradiction with some basic values of Islam and the Saudi society. I do not think that we are obligated to the introduction of a Western model of democracy as it is. Every society should strive to reach their own model that suite their needs and values. Therefore, I know that our society is very different from other communities around the world, so we may evolve to a model of democracy that is not like any other model which may resemble or differ from other models in the world. We do not have to reinvent the wheel as they say, but we need to benefit from our own experiences and mistakes as well as from others experiences and mistakes until we reach the result that we want for this country.

I am definitely dreaming and I will keep doing so, not because I am a romantic person, but because we are in front of a sad reality that does not present much of encouraging options and without dreams the present will be difficult to bear. Also, I really believe that part of any change is the dream that brings disciples of change as seen through the great Egyptian revolution. During the eighteen days of the revolution I lived something like a dream, and even now I feel the dream is not over yet. Though I realize that only the head of the snake is been chopped and still there is a long way to remove the snake’s spirit from the body of Egypt and the Egyptians.

So I dream of democracy in Saudi Arabia, and not after 100 years, but in the near foreseen future. Because those who deny our readiness for democracy today do not offer much of alternatives except the present which is not desirable. They do not have much of influence into shaping the future except waiting for the gifts of the state which might not ever come. We might not be ever ready for the democracy, but silence and stillness will not make us ready tomorrow. But promoting awareness and stimulating debate among people helps imagining and forming a better future for our children.

Niqab and Freedom

07/10/2010

Eman wrote in her Saudi Woman blog that she was unexpectedly ecstatic about the french ban of niqab! She goes on to explain that taking this decision away from women by banning the niqab is in fact the best solution to liberate the majority of women who are pressured and forced into covering their faces.

I found myself commenting on her post and not ignoring it for two reasons:

  1. She is an Educated Saudi woman
  2. She is an avid blogger who isn’t afraid to speak her mind which is something to admire about her spirit

In my comment, quoted below, I appealed to her love of freedom and expressed my curiosity in her thought process:

While I respect your right to free speech, I help but wonder how can a liberal educated woman such as yourself wishes and advocates for a decision that limits women’s freedom!

You say we are either with the 1 who chooses to cover her face willingly or the hundreds who don’t. But that is simply not true. It is quite irrational on your part. Can’t I support both of them in making their own minds? Wouldn’t introducing a concept of no forced covering had been a better course of action in your campaign?

You campaign to take away the choice from women to cover their face, just because you hate what it represents, is making you look like some kinda of dictator to me.

peace out

She quickly replied, quotes below, with a proposition and a couple of questions. So, this post represents the alternative Saudi voices blog spirit in providing an alternative perspective on the issue by trying to address Eman’s concerns and highlight the misconceptions in her take on the subject:

The Freedom Insurance Proposition

Once you figure out how you can ensure that a woman fully and willingly chose the niqab, I’ll agree with you. However real life has shown that the majority of women who wear it are pressured and sometimes forced to. Here in Saudi Arabia school doors are guarded to enforce covering the face completely.

First of all, no individual can ensure anything when it comes to a social change. This is the reason for starting such campaigns as hers against niqab. So our voices can be heard, supported by others (individuals, bloggers & traditional media) and generally generating just enough public interest on the subject for law-makers to feel the need to pass a law that will, finally, ensure whatever the objective is! In this case, no forced “niqab”; and even then, it comes down to the society and its willingness/readiness for such change.

Where is your Humanity?

Can you yourself endure a piece of black fabric on your face every time you leave the house? From a humane perspective, do you really believe that human beings were meant to start out their day that way?

No, I wouldn’t dream of enduring a “niqab” but I suspect one can get used to it with time. Also, I don’t think humans are meant to eat their way to obesity or pierce every corner of their body. However, I would find it disgraceful to relish in the fact that any government has seen it fit to deprive the people from their personal freedom which does not interfere with others freedom.

Imaginary Ignorant Muslim Women!

Many simple women I personally know abhor the face cover but endure it because they were informed by extremist shiekhs that without it they are no longer Muslims. Do you consider these women victims of ignorance and misinformation or women who freely chose to cover?

Finally, I think Eman exaggerates when she suggests that “many simple women” believe that they will lose their Islam without their “niqab”. It’s 2010, Eman.. Even the most conservative women would only say that it is a major sin to remove your “niqab”. I Can’t imagine anyone saying that a woman would automatically be considered non-muslim just for uncovering her face. Not anymore sister 🙂 and I would’ve really appreciated it if Eman took a balanced approach in depicting the situation.

peace out

The Mirage of Saudi Reforms

05/10/2010

King Abdullah, the Custodian of the two holy mosques, is widely popular in the country. I clearly recall when he became the King more than 5 years ago that many Saudis demonstrated their deep strong feelings towards him by voluntarily posting the King’s photo on their cars with slogans praising him. Today I see such photos much less frequently.

Changes took place in the country during the past five years. Yet, I hardly can identify any which directly impacted majority of Saudis in their daily life. I can claim that the changes were either in the appearance or satisfactory to a factional “war”. How?

Some of the most important changes that the King pushed for are in education and juridical system. Fruits in such areas need a lot of time before being felt. Yet, indications especially in education are not promising, I believe.

Another tool used to enforce the change were the Royal Decrees Some of these Decrees created hope when announced, while others created controversy to say the least. After the death of 120 people in Jeddah back in November as a result of moderate rain followed by a flood, a very strong worded Royal Decree was announced ordering detailed investigations of the reasons of the tragedy. It really cooled down the public mood which was so shocked of what happened. However, it is been almost a year and no real action took place against those involved in corruption that killed innocent people. What is more important is that the investigation results are still not published and kept secretive.

Though the King seemed supportive to dialogue (including dialogue between religions) and local newspapers got more critical of the performance of the ministries, the Royal Decree dismissing one of the members of the highest religious council after criticizing KAUST because of the mix of sexes in the University caused a lot of argument and was considered as a factional victory for, the so called, Saudi Liberals. Few weeks ago, another Decree was announced limiting the public fatwa to the members of the highest religious council. Keeping in mind what happened to their colleague few months ago, I doubt that the council will be in position to announce any fatwa that might not be liked by the King.

The two controversial Royal Decrees demonstrate to me that Saudi Arabia is still far away from a period of real reforms and that many things happen behind the scene causing a high level of public anxiety and create a feeling of uncertainty of the future.

When would reforms in Saudi Arabia be real reforms and not the gift of the King?. It is when those reforms focus on finding solutions to the real issues of the country rather than creating more fictional wars. On my personal view, the list of real life issues include, but not limited to, unemployment (currently at 10%, at least), homeownership (at least 40% of Saudis do not own their houses), the inflation especially as a result of greed and lack of regulations over monopoly. That might be just the tip of the iceberg because of the chronic issues such as; lack of transparency on the government income and spending, lack of public participation in governance and the accountability and finally the separation of the authorities in the country.

In a country with more than 50% of the citizens below the age of 25 years old, challenges can be turned into opportunities by taking the right strategies and inclusion of the young generations into building their own, and the country’s, future. However there is no enough evidence that such thinking exists among the ones leading the country.

What is next?

06/03/2010

A friend of mine asked me: “What is your problem with Saudi Arabia?” Well, I said: Justice, Equal Rights, Choice, and Trust

We live in a country where people abandon their rights because they believe they will never have them. We lack trust in our government, and we lack trust in our judicial system.

I don’t want to force people to follow my believes, yet I want to have the freedom to follow my own. I want to be able to walk in the street without covering my face and without others whispering behind my back: “Astaghfor Allah,” Muttawa shouting at me, and people judging me based upon what’s on my head! I want to have the choice to go out with my cousins to any restaurant without fearing that Muttawa would come arrest us and sentence us to 50 lashes each. I don’t want to be judged because I don’t fear putting my pictures on Facebook. I don’t want to be judged because I deal with men. I don’t want to be judged because I don’t mind appearing on TV. I don’t want to be judged because my father allows me to travel alone. I don’t want to be judged because I sit with my male cousins. It is a choice! I am not bad because I am different. I am just different.

“Your father trusts you,” she said. “But the society doesn’t.”

“Show our women that you trust them, as much as you in fact depend on them” Woodrow Wilson once said. You should trust that we can, and will make the right decisions. Trust us, because we are your partners in life. We gave, we sacrificed, we suffered, we accepted, we listened, and we obeyed. Why are you willing to make us partners in suffering but not in rights?

Now is the time for us to be full partners. Trust us, and believe in us. Having our rights doesn’t mean excluding men from our lives and disrespecting them. It means sharing the responsibility and become equal partners.

The problem is that women are afraid. Afraid of the responsibility, because they have been taught and they believed that they are useless, and that they can do nothing but cook, clean, and raise children which I think the biggest responsibility of all. Women want to be in the safe side, and they rather not face the world as long as there is someone who can face it instead of them. Well, one day there won’t be anyone and you will have to do it on your own.

Rights are taken, not given. And if we don’t take them by force we will never have them. Sitting behind our computers and writing these blog posts and making online campaigns will do nothing. We tried it and it didn’t work.

What is next?

By: Najla Barasain