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Women's Rights

Women's Rights

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Women in Saudi Arabia are less represented in political, social, economic and scientific fields than women in any other Arab or Muslim country. Women were barred from participating in the only municipal elections in the history of the Saudi State in 2005. They are prohibited from studying certain subjects in schools, such as chemistry and biology. They may not legally drive and must obtain “permission” from a male “guardian” to travel within or outside the country. Women must ride in the back of public buses, even when the buses are empty. Saudi girls are not allowed to play sports in schools, which, by Saudi health official admission, is causing health problems and staggering expenses. All marriages are arranged by male relatives. If a Saudi woman divorces her husband, she loses custody of her children over age six. Women have little or no freedom to effectively prosecute sexual abuse cases, being required to produce four witnesses. In court, a woman’s testimony is equivalent to half that of a man’s. These conditions violate women’s human rights and have devastating personal and social effects.

These exclusionary policies have created a dangerously imbalanced environment that is hurting Saudi society and Muslim women across the globe. Such policies favor the views of extremist-leaning segments in the Saudi society. CDHR promotes the empowerment of Saudi women to become equal partners in the democratic development process in Saudi Arabia. As activists, elected officials, and constituents, the contributions of women are crucial to building a strong and vibrant society that embraces tolerance and rejects extremism and terrorism. Empowering women in Saudi Arabia is a moral imperative and a powerful path to promoting progress, tolerance and democracy in the country.

The alliance between the Saudi ruling dynasty and its extremist religious allies is at the heart of Saudi exclusion and mistreatment of women. The royal family has traditionally used a conservative brand of Sunni Islam (Wahhabism) to justify its rule. Present-day Saudi Arabia was founded by an alliance between Muhammad ibn Saud, great grandfather of the current ruling dynasty, and Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab, the founder and father of Wahhabism in the middle of the eighteen century.

Wahhabi religious police have free reign to enforce their interpretation of religious law, and Saudi women face severe restrictions in the political, economic, and social spheres. Women cannot directly write freely, or assemble and organize against inhumane and stifling restrictions. The system has stifled the development of the country and kept its citizens divided.

Increased participation by Saudi women will tilt the balance in favor of tolerant policies that are in the best interest of all Saudi citizens and the international community. Women’s inclusion in political and civic life would unleash a wealth of talent that could increase domestic economic activity, empower competition, reduce unnecessary costs of social segregation, enrich cultural and civic development, and help foster democratic institutions, thereby weakening extremist influences in the country. With Saudi Arabia’s significant religious and economic influence regionally and globally, empowering women in Saudi Arabia will radically increase chances for democratic reforms in other Arab and Muslim societies worldwide.

 

Educated and Jobless Saudi Women: Ticking Bomb

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Educated and Jobless Saudi Women: Ticking Bomb

By Ali Alyami

Even the people who proclaim Saudi Arabia’s stability and progress would admit that restless and frustrated Saudi youth, especially women, pose a real threat to the country’s stability and its shaky political structure. One of the major problems Saudis face is a lack of fulfilling and well-paying jobs, except for some government positions.. No segment in Saudi society suffers from this unnecessary and avoidable problem more than educated women. Millions of Saudi women are highly educated and have received advanced degrees, yet they are prevented from working, even if jobs are available. According to inconsistent Saudi statistics, between 6% and 14% of Saudi women are employed, even though the number of educated women exceeds that of men. Many women resent their dependence on men for economic survival among other things. They are forcefully demanding changes to labor and social laws that prevent them from working, becoming financially independent and contributing to the building of their lagging society

Given the fact that millions of Saudi women are educated, able and want to work, preventing them from working is mind-boggling, especially when there are about 10 million imported expatriates doing jobs that could be done by Saudi women. The reason given by the public and private sectors is that Saudis are selective and do not want to hold low paying jobs. This lame argument defies the fact that Saudi women are prevented from working in restaurants, cleaning homes, doing secretarial work or driving busses. Government officials consider these jobs as embodying decadent Western values or as s Prince Naif, the Saudi Interior Minister and a possible candidate to succeed King Abdullah, put it “He who permits his daughter or wife to work as a secretary for another man forfeit his manhood.”
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Saudi Female Employment Statistics
Interior Minister Naif's Quote

 

Ghostization of Saudi Women Reinforced

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Ghostization of Saudi Women Reinforced

By Ali Alyami

The royal appointment of Norah Al-Fayez as Deputy Education Minister for Women’s Education on February 15, 2009 made a huge splash in Western media and Saudi public relations (including Saudi embassies and the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations) offices worldwide. This euphoric foreign reaction to King Abdullah’s appointment of a Saudi woman to look after Saudi girl’s affairs at the Ministry of Education did not impress many Saudis, especially women. The appointment of Mrs. Al-Fayez was largely crafted to silence democratic reformers in and outside the country, minimize global criticism of Saudi segregationist policies and oppression of women and strengthen King Abdullah’s position in the country. The appointment of Mrs. Al-Fayez has a short-lived positive impact on the psyche and ethos of Saudi society, but it has evaporated, as many in the country knew would be the case

Knowing their male chauvinistic-dominated society and the autocrats who rule it, the resilient women of Saudi Arabia did not expect meaningful changes to their intolerable present status after the appointment of Norah Al-Fayez, but they had hoped things would move forward. As evidenced by the attached article and pictures, the result of the appointment of Mrs. Al-Fayez is what Saudi female reformers are fighting against: justification and re-enforcement of gender segregation and male sense of superiority.

Appointing Mrs. Al-Fayez was not designed to inspire Saudi women to do better and obtain their usurped rights but to accept the unnatural subjugation as dictated by their government and Saudi male, extremist-dominated society.
Read Article (in Arabic)
Picture of Norah Al-Fayez when the media announced her appointment
Picture of Norah Al-Fayez after her appointment


 
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A Princess’s Message to her 50,000 Students: Fear and Submission

By Ali Alyami

In a recent statement to the Saudi government controlled media, Princess Al-Johara said that women who are not completely enveloped in black have no honor. She accused Saudi male liberals and human rights activists of being no more than failed Westernized decadents, men who claim to be for women’s rights and equality when in reality they are driven by sexual motives. Such statements are to expected from the government’s heavy handed extremist religious police whose assignment is to intimidate and subjugate people, especially women, in the name of God and cultural supremacy.

Princess Al-Johara happens to be the president (rector) of one of the Saudi government’s largest universities, Princess Norah University, with more than 50,000 students. Her statement to the media raises questions about her education, management skills, objectives and whether she is an educator or an agent of the system whose policy is to marginalize, segregate and keep the overwhelming majority of Saudi women totally dependent on men; in effect, to keep women as perpetual minors.

GLike many interested parties, the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, was curious to find out about Princess Al-Johara’s scathing attack on uncovered women and liberals. On May 3, 2010, CDHR’s director wrote an analytical and inquisitive commentary titled “University Rector: Only Covered Women Have Honor.” Established to promote non-sectarian democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, CDHR wanted to find out about Rector Princess Al-Johara and whether she would be an enlightened and progressive educator or a royal agent given the job to make sure her family’s control remains supreme. In fairness to the Rector, the commentary was emailed to her, care of her three immediate assistants, deans 1, 2 and 3. No direct response was expected nor received.

As stated in the attached article, Princess/Rector Al-Johara sadly reiterated her position: Women should observe Saudi traditions, obey their parents and above all fear God and submit to the masters of their destiny, the Saudi ruling princes (Oli’ya Alamr). One can conclude that Princess Al-Johara was given the job not to create and implement a knowledge-based academic curriculum and empower her students to be self-reliant, but make sure students in her large university continue to learn about religion, tradition and total submission to God and King.
Read Article (in Arabic)


 

University Rector: Only Covered Women Have Honor

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University Rector: Only Covered Women Have Honor

By Ali Alyami

I receive hundreds of e-mails every day most of which are related to the motherland, its people, government, polices and influence on Muslims and non-Muslims. The attached email, with my comment, came from a female professor who wanted to know my reaction to the content more so than the image.

First, let me congratulate you for being entrusted with such a gargantuan responsibility. To be chosen from among millions of highly educated and hard working Saudi women, you must have proven your academic capabilities, administrative skills, and vision of how a stagnant society can be propelled into modernity and a brighter future for all of its citizens. In addition, you must have known that this job requires at least 18 hours a day, 7 days a week of hard work. This is what rectors of major universities do in modern societies.

When I read the email, I was taken aback by your statement to the media as well as by the picture; they convey the same message. I decided to share my thoughts with you, but not before I did a little unscientific survey. I printed the picture out and asked my neighbor to show it to her students (ages four-five) and ask this question: What do you see in this picture? The response was unanimous: Two people and a ghost.

ghost
That’s the image component of the e-mail, but for me and for many people inside the motherland and around the globe, your remarks have far reaching implications, especially coming from a rector of a major university with 32 colleges, 52,308 students and covering 16 municipalities.

Princess/Dr. Al-Johara, I agree with you that in this day and age, a person can conduct an office job while enveloped in an obscuring black garment, as the attached image illustrates, from the air, a wheelchair, lying in a hospital bed or in a gold plated bathtub. This is not what compelled me to write. I am writing because of the pejorative ramifications and disdainful comment you made to the media.

Princess/Dr. Al-Johara, you said that there are covered women who do their jobs well in spite of liberals’ westernized style campaign against Hijab. You condemned liberals (I happen to be one, by your definition) for advocating women to be the authors of their own destiny, including the right to drive their children to school, to emergency rooms, soccer games and to receive lifesaving medications without seeking permission from their male relatives including their ten-year-old sons. You described liberals as decadent westernized failures who have only one item on their agenda: Sex. If that were the case, your Highness, why would these educated fathers, husbands and brothers be motivated to expose their female relatives’ faces to lusty men to prey on them? How about the preference of millions of educated and uneducated women who are unnaturally immobilized and forced into looking ghost-like, as my unscientific survey concluded? Do you think they should have a choice not to cover their faces if they choose to do so?

Princess/Dr. Al-Johara, are you not the one who is reducing women to sex objects? Aren’t you saying that women cannot be honorable and dignified unless they are invisible, enveloped in black? Aren’t you saying that my mother and millions of mothers all over Arabia (before and after it became “Saudi-Wahhabi” Arabia, read attached article) who tilled and irrigated the land to feed their children as well as breast-fed them in public are not dignified and have no honor because they were not disguised in black?

Princess/Dr. Al-Johara, if you are truly concerned about women’s honor and dignity why not stand up and fight the system that is designed to keep them as “perpetual minors?” Can you name any country, Muslim, Arab, or non-Muslim, where women are more excluded and marginalized than in the Kingdom? Just name one other country where women cannot travel, rent an apartment, deliver their babies, or receive lifesaving medication without male permission. Name one country where 95% of women (many of them educated) are unemployed while expatriates hold at least 60% of jobs that women need and can easily do. Name one country where intelligent, capable, and energetic businesswomen are not allowed to manage their businesses directly. Name a country where gender segregation is government policy, yet women are forced to buy their underwear from lusty salesMEN. Name one country where women are prohibited from driving, an absolute necessity in the age of modernity, globalization, and economic development. Name one country where women can be divorced in a text message. Name a non-Muslim country where women are forbidden from attending the burial of their children and other loved ones.

Finally as a rector of a large and important university, you have a huge and daunting responsibility toward the students and the country. If I believed in conspiracies, I would think you are more interested in perpetuating the stone-age status quo than in advancing women and protecting their honor and dignity. In order for the country to move forward and be saved from internal and external destruction, all of its citizens have to be mobilized and empowered to propel their country, yes their country, to a better, safer and stable future through participatory political processes. There is no escape from modernity and its many and impatient demands.
Respectfully Submitted,
Ali Alyami
Read e-mail (in Arabic)
Read Article (in Arabic)


 

Reinforcing the Gender-Based Apartheid System

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Reinforcing the Gender-Based Apartheid System

By Ali Alyami

The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, supports the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce’s initiative to help facilitate the creation of a small number of jobs for Saudi women at home as reported in the attached article. While this small step would provide some Saudi women with financial independence, it reinforces the crippling and denigrating gender segregation that has plagued Saudi Arabia since the Saudi-Wahhabi alliance took over the country in 1932. Contrary to the Saudi government and its religious establishments’ claims, the costly state enforced gender segregation in Saudi Arabia has no religious or traditional basis. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are officially compelled to clad themselves in black and prohibited from publicly intermingling with males. This illogical system of forcing women to clad themselves in black is only a part of numerous and formidable denigrating state policies against women. Women can not legally drive. Nor can they live alone, travel, work, go to school or receive life-saving medication without a male relative’s presence or official written permission.

The Saudi government’s justification for severe gender segregation is comparable to South Africa’s former system of Apartheid and India’s Caste system. The Saudi government’s reasoning for gender segregation and covering women in black garments is to avoid confrontations with its religious community and old nomadic traditionalists. Neither argument holds water. Prior to the Saudi-Wahhabi conquest of the vast and mostly inhospitable land in 1932, men and women mingled, worked, ate and traveled together.

After the Saudi-Wahhabi conquest, not only did they name the country and its inhabitants after themselves, but violently imposed their totalitarian brand of Islam, Wahhabism, on all residents regardless of their religious or traditional orientation. In addition, the Saudi-Wahhabi conquerors carried out a campaign of cultural and historical cleansing. This process included artificially dividing society along the lines of gender, religion and regional identity. These divisions within society are still imposed and fostered by the state in a typical “divide and conquer” strategy. This is when gender segregation became “traditional and religiously based.”

Appeasing the religious establishment is not only duplicitous, but is a misleading and diversionary argument. The theocratic and autocratic halves of the Saudi system depend on each other for survival. Contrary to the Saudi royals’ public claims of having to shun confrontation with the religious establishment over policies, the monarchs pay, control and instruct the religious men to enforce the divisions within society.
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Natural Allies Against a Common Enemy

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Natural Allies Against a Common Enemy

By Ali Alyami

The West’s overt denial that it’s engaged in a deadly war of ideas or “Clashes of Civilizations” as Samuel Huntington brilliantly predicted a decade and half ago, contradicts what most Muslim media outlets, commentators, clerics, ruling dynasties and religious institutions tell their subjugated populations: The West is waging a war against Islam and Muslims. They cite the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Arab-Israeli conflict as examples of the West’s war on Islam. This strategy is succeeding in achieving four ominous objectives: Maintaining the autocratic and antidemocratic forces in power in Arab and Muslim states, spreading the deadly Saudi brand of Islam, Wahhabism, regionally and globally, silencing free expression everywhere and uniting and preparing Muslims for possible violent confrontation with the West.

On the other hand, Western governments and many of their media outlets, think tanks and learning institutions continue to mislead the majority of their populations into believing that the heightened conflict between the majority of Muslims and Western democracies has to do with fighting extremist fringes who happen to be Muslims instead of addressing the real issue: Political Islam. The Western argument defies facts, because the manifestoes (declarations of principles), rallying and recruiting tools of these groups, their supporters and financiers are based on Quranic verses and Shariah law. These groups pose threats, but defeating them will not neutralize or undermine the ideology.

In democratic societies religion is considered a private belief while for Muslims, Islam is an overarching doctrine that controls all aspects of human behavior, actions and perceptions. In short, Islam is a political system and not just a personal religious belief. In fact, Islam has been used from its very inception as a political tool of total physical and mental control by Muslim ruling dynasties to justify their repressive policies against their peoples. By continuously emphasizing to their mostly voiceless populations that the West is waging a war against Islam, Muslim autocratic and theocratic elites are in fact suggesting their captive audiences to wage war against the West.

However, there is a ray of hope. A number of Muslims, especially women (the recipients of the denigrating policies of religious doctrine), some politicians and a number of Muslim scholars are increasingly questioning the use of their faith as an oppressive tool at home and a rallying cry against Western democracies. Encouragingly, some of the loudest advocates against religious extremism come from Saudi Arabia, the country whose name is synonymous with suicide bombers and deadly fatawi, religious edicts, aimed at anything or anyone perceived to threaten the status quo.

The most recent example of this heroic stand against religious extremists happened in March 2010 at a televised poetry reading competition “The Million's Poet” in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A Saudi woman, enveloped in black head to toe, strode onto a lush stage and delivered an earth shaking nomadic style poem, Nabati, in which she depicted fatawi issuers as agents of hate, oppression and death. Hessah Hilal’s poem won her a thundering standing ovation and placed her near the top of the list of the contenders. Millions of Arabs and Muslims watched the popular show which shook the foundations of Muslim clerics and governments around the globe.

The West must understand that Islam is a political system and way of life for most Muslims; therefore, Western democracies should realize that they will not be able to separate the political from the religious aspects of Islam. The best course to undermine the looming threats of Muslim extremism to the very existence of democracy is to work from within Muslim societies. One of the best, safest, and cheapest ways to achieve this objective is for the West to support Saudi women who are leading the way in the fight against religious extremists inside Saudi Arabia where it matters most. Saudi Arabia is the birth place of Islam and home to its holy sites; consequently it exerts undue influence throughout the Muslim World.
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Do They Deserve to Live?

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Do They Deserve to Live?

By Ali Alyami

As documented in the attached article the Saudi Ministry of Education and the Saudi government’s religious establishment are deadlocked in discussions as to whether rescue workers can or cannot enter girls’ schools in cases of disaster without prior permission from religious and other authorities. They are also deadlocked over what government agency should be contacted for permission to save girls’ lives when disaster strikes. One would hope that the Saudi authorities would have learned a lesson after a tragic event occurred on March 15, 2002 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1874471.stm) when a dilapidated girls’ school caught fire with 800 girls locked inside.

Heart-wrenchingly, the lives of 15 aspiring young women were snuffed out and scores of others were injured because the Saudi government’s religious police refused to let emergency rescuers enter the school. In fact, eyewitnesses saw the religious police engaged in fist fights with rescuers as the latter attempted to enter the burning school to save students’ lives. The reason given for letting young Saudi women burn alive was the Saudi-Wahhabi policy of gender segregation and insistence in cloaking women in black garments from head to toe, which the girls were not at the time. As empowered by the Saudi government, the religious police insisted that it was their duty to let the girls die rather than allow their faces to be seen by non-related male rescue workers.

It’s difficult to understand the mindset of the Saudi ruling men. How could there be opposition to saving helpless children’s lives? Monkeys and porcupines run to save their babies during brush fires. Wild gorillas come to the rescue of injured and helpless human children when they fall into their fortified cages. Are Saudi girls’ lives less precious than those of animals? The Saudi government should look the grieving parents in their eyes and answer this question. Eight years later, the Saudi authorities are still deadlocked on this issue.
Read Article (in Arabic)


 

 
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Saudi Women Take Action

By Ali Alyami

About a year ago, a few Saudi women decided they had had enough of buying their lingerie from lustful Saudi and expatriate salesmen in major department stores. The women, under the leadership of Reem Asaad who lectures on finance at a women’s college in Jeddah, resurrected a ministerial decree that calls on shops that sell women’s underwear to hire saleswomen instead of salesmen. They raised the issue with the ineffective Saudi Ministry of Labor to no avail. The campaigners wrote to the major department stores yet received no responses. In the meantime, the Saudi and international media picked up and publicized the issue extensively. This small, but empowering, campaign became known as the lingerie campaign or, as described by a Swedish paper, “A Bra Revolution in Saudi Arabia.” Because of the campaign leader’s knowledge of finances and what make businesses twitch (profits), she and her courageous colleagues are asking Saudi women to boycott shops that do not hire women to sell women’s lingerie. Read Article

 

 
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