Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Prince Says Saudi Arabia Not Yet Ready to Allow Women to Drive

For those thousands of people who were expecting an announcement about women in Saudi Arabia being able to drive, disappointment.

Article in the April 26, 2016 Bloomberg.com about the issue and the Deputy Crown Prince's interview, by Dima Almashabi and Vivienne Nereim. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below.

Saudi Arabia isn’t ready to end the world’s only ban on women driving, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, arguing it’s not just a matter of ending strictures imposed by the kingdom’s austere form of Islam.
Allowing women to drive is “not a religious issue as much as it is an issue that relates to the community itself that either accepts it or refuses it,” said the 30-year-old prince, who has amassed unprecedented powers since his father, King Salman, ascended to the throne. “The community is not convinced about women driving” and sees negative consequences if it’s allowed, the prince said on Monday after outlining a plan to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil.
The prince had signaled his support for more freedom for women during an interview this month, saying “we believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain.” But when asked about the driving ban by a reporter on Monday, he said reform couldn’t be rushed. “Changes could happen in the future and we always hope they will be positive changes,” he said.
Attempts at broad social liberalization could jeopardize the closer ties that the Al Saud family struck with Wahhabi clerics after armed fundamentalists in 1979 seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque and demanded an end to efforts to modernize the Saudi state. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh recently said allowing women to drive was “a dangerous matter that should not be permitted.”

Rapid Change

Yet the sort sort of industries Prince Mohammed wants to lure to Saudi Arabia to wean it off its oil dependency are unlikely to come to a country with major strictures on women. Saudi women also need a guardian’s consent to receive a passport, travel outside the country or marry. A 2015 gender gap index by the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia as among the worst countries to be a woman, placing it at 134 out of 145 nations.
King Abdullah had expanded the rights of women in the world’s biggest oil exporter before his death in early 2015. Amid opposition from traditionalist clerics and their followers, the late king opened the first coeducational university, named the first female deputy minister and said women can vote and run in municipal polls. Many Saudi women want more rapid change.
“We were very disappointed,” said Muneerah Sulaiman, a 26-year-old lawyer in Riyadh, after the prince’s comments on Monday. “I don’t understand the argument of people who appose it on religious grounds,” she said. “How is it OK to have a strange man drive women around, which is against Islamic teachings, but not OK to drive yourself around? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Social Media - Announcement on Saudi Women expected on April 25th

Social media is buzzing with a rumor that the Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman will make an announcement about women's rights in Saudi Arabia on April 25th. The official announcement will be sent out on Twitter (in addition to other more traditional means) at  #SaudiVision2030. There is some thought that the issue of women driving will be mentioned. There was also another rumor circulating (apparently now denied) that King Salman directed the Shura Council to issue a law that will permit women to drive.

This blogger will try to keep you posted on anything happening on the 25th. Meanwhile, if you are a twitter follower you can also follow events at the hashtag:  #women2drive

It would be delightful, in my opinion, if we are at the point when the change is announced, God willing.

Saudi women to have all their rights, prince says

On April 22, 2016, Gulf News bureau chief Habib Toumi reports on statement of Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia about women's rights. Rumors that the Shura Consultative Council voted to approve women driving are apparently a rumor, per this article. A link to the article is here and the text is pasted below.
Manama: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said women, who represented half of the country’s population, should have all their rights granted by Islam.
“We believe women have rights in Islam that they have yet to obtain,” the crown prince told Bloomberg in an interview on Thursday.
One major obstacle is tackling the attitudes and changing the mindsets of people who “distort the facts of the religious establishment so that women do not get their complete rights granted them by Islam”.
Aware of the complex and intricate situations dominating perspectives and issues in the conservative Saudi society, Prince Mohammad in an earlier interview insisted on the significance of time as a crucial factor in changing long-standing views and mindsets.
“I just want to remind the world that American women had to wait long to get their right to vote. So, we need time. We look at citizens in general and women are half of this society and we want it to be a productive half,” he said in an interview last month.
The issue of giving more rights to women, including the right to drive, has dominated social and online debates in Saudi Arabia.
The political empowerment of women received a great boost when former King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council in 2013. The powers were consolidated with the election this year of 20 women to the municipal councils. The elections were a breakthrough as women were allowed for the first time to cast ballots and run as candidates.
In the battle for the possibility for women to drive, all types of social, political, economic and religious arguments have been used by the camps supporting and opposing women taking to the roads.
False report
A report that the Shura Council finally approved the right of women to drive was denied late on Thursday by a spokesperson who said the allegations widely circulated online about allowing women to drive were not facts.
“The allegations that the Shura allowed women to drive are baseless and lacked credibility,” the spokesperson said. “The issue was not even put on the agenda of the Council.”
The reports posted on social media alleged that the Shura Council responded positively to calls to allow women to drive and travel using their cars.
The reports alleged that Council Speaker Abdullah Bin Mohammad Al Shaikh said that upon directives from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, the Shura issued a decision to allow Saudi women to drive privately owned cars in Saudi Arabia and without any conditions.
According to the report, Al Shaikh said that all members of the council approved the decision and that it would be applied starting on May 8.
However, women could apply for licences starting this week, the report claimed.

2 Saudi deputies call for lifting driving ban

It has been reported that two deputies to the Saudi consultative council, the Shura Council, have called for the issue of women driving to be debated again. This story is from Emirates 24/7 and was posted on April 19, 2016. A link to the story is here and the story is pasted below.

Two female members of Saudi Arabia’s appointed Parliament have called for lifting a long-standing ban on driving by women.
Haya Al Manei and Latifa Al Shaalan, members of Shura council, said there should be a fresh parliamentary debate on the issue following the council’s failure over the past years to approve a decision to permit women to drive cars.
“There should be a new debate on allowing women to drive cars…the Shura should refer the issue to the concerned authorities before it votes on it. We have formally requested a debate,” Al Manei said, quoted by the Saudi Arabic language daily Sada.
She said there is a need to lift the ban on driving by women following a series of decisions allowing them to join Shura, vote in election and work in most sectors.

Saudi Arabia's top cleric defends female driving ban saying women would be 'exposed to evil'

This news story came out on April 12, 2016. This blogger has been reluctant to post it, as it seems like nothing new. However, events have  followed on this opinion so I am posting it. A link to the story in the UK's Telegraph is here, with the story pasted below.

Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric has defended a ban on women driving by claiming it would "expose them to evil".
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh said men “obsessed with women” and with "weak spirits" could end up causing female drivers harm and that male relatives would not know their whereabouts.
Although women driving in Saudi Arabia is not against the law, in practice women are unable to obtain driving licences.  Exceptions are occasionally made in rural areas if a woman needs to drive for her family life.
Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh
Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh Credit: AFP
According to The Independent, the grand mufti made his comments on a Saudi television channel.
The kingdom's most senior cleric is well known for his outspoken positions and earlier this year issued a fatwa saying chess was forbidden in Islam as it promoted gambling.
Saudi Araba has made some recent progress on women's rights. Last year women were allowed to vote for the first time.
Allowing women the freedom to drive remains a distant hope.
Last year  Loujain al-Hathloul was jailed for 10 weeks after violating the ban by driving from the United Arab Emirates to the Saudi border.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Women's Right to Drive

Impassioned opinion piece in the March 14, 2016 edition of the English language daily Saudi Gazette, calling for women to get the official right to drive in Saudi Arabia, from one of the women serving in the Shura Legislative Council of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Thuraya al-Areed. The text is pasted below, and a link to the story is here.

Dr. Thuraya Al-Areed
RECENTLY we celebrated the World Women’s Day, remembering women’s great achievements and at the same time reminding the world of their many sufferings. On this occasion, we also remembered the circumstances that helped women to prove their capabilities to make outstanding contributions to society. At the same time we expressed our deep sorrow over the continuing suffering of the vast majority of women around the world.
With the support of modern technology we can now see what used to be hidden behind the walls. We have seen a video clip of violence against a little girl named Noura, who was sexually abused by her father, that went viral on Twitter. It was followed by a WhatsApp campaign to support Noura and save her from the deviant father. Social media also discussed the role of the Justice Ministry, Social Affairs Ministry and the Shoura Council in protecting the girl, especially after her mother had threatened to take legal action against her for slandering her parents.
During a WhatsApp conversation, an educated young Saudi man asked me about the progress achieved by women in general in the last three years since women members were appointed to the Shoura Council. He bluntly asked me what did we achieve for women as Shoura members. He also asked why we did not call for a resolution that would provide woman all her rights as a citizen, including the right to drive. He wanted his wife to support him in all affairs of life, instead of becoming a burden on him. I apologized to him for failing to win a positive decision on women driving yet.
Life would become much easier if Saudi women, among them your sisters and wives, were able to drive inside their country like they do abroad and like women in other parts of the world. Our continued hesitation will only delay a decision on this all-important issue and we will pay dearly for this indecision at economic and social levels.
The Shoura Council has achieved a lot for women in the past three years. The most important among them was the approval of a proposal to amend the Personal Status Act. The motion received 96 votes against 23. The move was aimed at correcting social customs and negative practices and protecting the rights of families, especially children. The legislation also sought to stop individual excesses and mutual hatred while putting an end to the practice of taking revenge against the weaker side, including children.
Every man does not follow the Shariah instructions with regard to family
relationship and give woman her rights based on the Qur’anic teaching: “Either keep her in an acceptable manner or release her with good treatment.” Every day we hear about cases of children and their mothers suffering as a result of their father refusing to give them their birth certificates and other documents to prove their nationality or preventing them from traveling abroad or renewing their passports.
These abhorrent practices occur at all levels of society, irrespective of their educational and financial status, not to mention sexual harassment and bullying. Criminal charges should be brought against people who are accused of committing such offenses.
The call for preventing crimes against women and children does not mean men get their full rights. But women in their present condition are unable to protect their rights and the rights of their children even if they maintain strong bonds with their sons to fill the vacuum created by the head of the family. As a result of this, the amendment of the Personal Status Act became necessary to protect the rights of women and children from the deviant mentality and evil intentions of the male head of the family.
In an atmosphere of official and social laxity, people often try to circumvent rules and regulations and violate the rights of the weaker sections of society. As a result, women right issues in the Kingdom draw the media attention all over the world. In every society there will be special issues apart from the general ones like the demands for equality and human rights. Here we want to restore the right to driving a car.
On the Women’s Day and in the era of firmness, decisiveness and justice, I foresee that women would receive all their rights. I am optimistic about our decision-makers when I ask them when we will celebrate the decision to give women all the rights of citizenship. Women issues in our country are smeared with burning tears, if not bloody bruises. Individual dealings often contradict with established rights that protect women and children against oppression, harassment and dispossession of their legitimate rights, such as chastity, inheritance and wage.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

An Argument Demanding a Second Look

This opinion piece on the English language daily the Saudi Gazette of January 27, 2016 was written by Tareq A. Al-Maeena. A link to his article is here, and the text is pasted in below.

Many Saudi visitors to the UAE on their return to the Kingdom are heard to mutter: Why them and why not us?  The country has in recent times become a draw for Saudis wanting to escape abroad for a short holiday. Tourists have been flocking to the UAE by the hundreds of thousands.  And they don’t visit only once. Families make up the bulk of visitors, but there are also a sizable number of single males and females who venture to the Emirates on their own.
What is it that attracts these visitors from a nearby country?  It is certainly not the weather as there are no significant climatic differences between the two countries.  Nor is there a dramatic change in topography that might induce some to visit.  Shops and restaurants are not much different in both countries.  Yet in the balance of travel, visitors from the Saudi side most likely outnumber their UAE counterparts by 10 to 1.
There are significant reasons why Saudis would make the trip from the Kingdom to the UAE.  The first is that they find the UAE more similar than different from their own culture.  And besides a host of other reasons such as world class entertainment, there is the compelling draw of a country that places no unjustified restrictions on its women.
A resident of Jeddah explained her own reasons why she chooses the UAE during the holidays rather than spending her time in the Kingdom.  She says: “It’s all about personal freedom.  The UAE is an Islamic country which follows a similar code to Saudi Arabia, yet allows women choices that we find denied here.  And the number one irritant and nuisance to all women here is not allowing them to drive their own cars.  Perhaps we can attempt to get a discussion going in the Shoura Council pertaining to this matter by using a different logic; perhaps the argument of conservation?”
Her novel argument went as follows: “The fastest and least expensive way to conserve water and other resources in Saudi Arabia and save some of our outbound tourist dollars would be to allow women to drive! Where is the connection? Allow me to give an explanation in a very rough estimate of figures:  If women were given the right to drive, approximately one million drivers could eventually be sent back to their home countries. Each one of these men uses about 300 liters of water a day, (about 1/3 cubic meter).
That’s 300,000,000 liters per day for a million drivers. That’s 90,000,000,000 liters per year, with allowances made for their vacation time. That’ 90,000,000 cubic meters per year of water consumed by drivers alone.
“The desalination plant in Saudi Arabia produces 1,000,000 cubic meters of water per day. That’s 365,000,000 cubic meters a year. If we had a million less drivers we would only need 275,000,000 cubic meters. The Shuaiba desalination plant would thus have 25 percent surplus water for people to use if women could drive their own cars. Double check the math.
“The same approximate figures would hold true for electricity consumption.
Even if drivers were to be slowly phased out, this would amount to an enormous saving for the country in terms of water, energy, and of course finances as well. The employment of drivers is becoming an increasing financial burden. Some women’s salaries are spent solely on a driver. Should women  then not receive  government  subsidies for  each household, as compensation for the expenses of having to pay recruiting agencies, visas, air fare, medical check-ups, driver’s licenses, traffic tickets, extra living quarters, furniture, insurance, meals, medical bills and medication, and of course water and electricity, etc., in addition to drivers’ salaries?
“What a huge financial burden for a country with a shrinking middle class, and with minimum wages not much higher than that paid to a driver brought in from a developing country, many of whom have never driven a car before coming to work in Saudi Arabia. That brings up the safety issue as well: safety on the road, safety allowing one’s children day in and day out in the presence of a stranger.
“Which leads me to my next point. The burden of women being banned from driving is also of a psychological and social nature. How has a conservative society such as Saudi Arabia ever allowed itself to bring total strangers into their homes, not knowing the slightest thing about their past, or their moral conduct? It’s a mystery. The whole issue of the ban on women driving is a mystery and a paradox.  And you wonder why we all escape to the UAE?  Perhaps it’s because they have got it right!”
And thus the woman concludes her argument with new reasoning.  The fact that she has chosen an original slant to a social issue indicates that this issue will simply not go away.  Nor will those marginalized by these restrictions remain silent. The issue should not be blanketed by the traditions and beliefs of some. One must not be dismissive of her arguments but look at the overall impact through the eyes of this woman.
– The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena