Posted tagged ‘Saudi media’

ANALYSIS: How Saudi Crown Prince’s promise of ‘moderate Islam’ shifts power

October 28, 2017

ANALYSIS: How Saudi Crown Prince’s promise of ‘moderate Islam’ shifts power, Al Arabiya, October 28, 2017

Mohammed bin Salman has pushed forth changes that could usher in a new era for one of the United States’ most important allies. (SPA)

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is charting a new, more modern course for a country known as so conservative.

Since catapulting to power, Mohammed bin Salman has pushed forth changes that could usher in a new era for one of the United States’ most important allies.

He’s introduced musical concerts and movies again and is seen as the force behind the king’s decision to grant women the right to drive as of next year.

When social openings in the kingdom were taking place four decades ago, extremists opposed to the monarchy laid siege to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca.

Prince Mohammed’s agenda is upending the current internal alliances in favor of synchronizing with a more cosmopolitan, global capitalism that appeals to international investors and tourists from all over the world.

Grabbing headlines

The prince grabbed headlines in recent days by vowing a return to “moderate Islam.”

In his sweeping “Vision 2030” plan to wean Saudi Arabia off of its near total dependence on petrodollars, Prince Mohammed laid out a vision for “a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method.”

Prince Mohammed, used a rare public appearance on stage at a major investor conference in the capital, Riyadh, this week to drive home that message to a global audience.

“We only want to go back to what we were: Moderate Islam that is open to the world, open to all religions,” he said in the ornate grand hall of the Ritz-Carlton. “We will not waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.”

His remarks were met with applause and a front-page article in Britain’s Guardian Newspaper. In expanded remarks to the paper, the 32-year-old prince said that successive Saudi monarchs “didn’t know how to deal with” Iran’s 1979 revolution that brought to power a clerical Shiite leadership still in place today.

That same year Saudi rulers weathered a stunning blow: Sunni extremists laid siege to Islam’s holiest site in Mecca for 15 days. The attack was carried out by militants opposed to social openings taking place at the time, seeing them as Western and un-Islamic.

Indeed, Sunni extremists have used the intolerant views to justify violence against others.

To appease a sizeable conservative segment of the population at home, cinemas were shuttered, women were banned from appearing on state television and the religious police were emboldened.

Much is now changing under the crown prince as he consolidates greater powers and prepares to inherit the throne.

There are plans to build a Six Flags theme park and a semi-autonomous Red Sea tourist destination where the strict rules on women’s dress will likely not apply. Females have greater access to sports, the powers of the once-feared religious police have been curtailed and restrictions on gender segregation are being eased.

Unlike previous initiatives who backed gradual and cautious openings, Prince Mohammed is moving quickly.

More than half of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million citizens are below the age of 25, meaning millions of young Saudis will be entering the workforce in the coming decade. The government is urgently trying to create more jobs and ward off the kinds of grievances that sparked uprisings in other Arab countries where unemployment is rampant and citizens have little say in government.

Finding solutions
The prince has to find solutions now for the problems he is set to inherit as monarch.

“What MBS is doing is a must requirement for any kind of economic reform. Economic reform requires a new Protestant ethic if you will, a new brand of Islam,” said Maamoun Fandy, director of the London Global Strategy Institute.

In other words, Saudi Arabia’s economic reforms require social reforms to succeed.

Meanwhile, Prince Mohammed still needs public support from some controversial clerics in order to position his reforms as Islamic and religiously permissible.

These clerics, many of whom had spoken out in the past against women working and driving, appear unwilling or unable to publicly criticize the moves.

In Saudi history and society, the king holds final say on most matters and the public has shown it is welcoming the changes.

Article In Saudi Daily Slams Hamas: It Has Founded An ‘Iranian Emirate’ In Gaza And Is Completely Subordinate To Iran’s Ayatollahs

October 25, 2017

Article In Saudi Daily Slams Hamas: It Has Founded An ‘Iranian Emirate’ In Gaza And Is Completely Subordinate To Iran’s Ayatollahs, MEMRI, October 25, 2017

(Please see also, The Iran-Hamas Plan to Destroy Israel. — DM)

In an October 23, 2017 article in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, Saudi journalist and academic Baina Al-Mulhim leveled scathing criticism at Hamas. The article was written against the backdrop of the recent rapprochement between Hamas and Iran, reflected in a visit by a high-ranking Hamas delegation to Tehran and in statements by Hamas officials on the importance of tightening relations with Iran and of this country’s financial and political support of Hamas.[1] Al-Mulhim wrote that Hamas is experiencing a crisis of identity because, despite being a Sunni movement, it follows the Shi’ite Iranian model and has established an Iranian emirate in Gaza, and its leaders are completely subordinate to Iran’s ayatollahs. She added that Hamas, like Hizbullah, is not a resistance movement but rather a “contractor” implementing the Iranian agenda, and is exploiting the problems of the Palestinian people for political purposes.

The following are excerpts from her article:

The Hamas delegation meets with Iranian officials in Tehran (image: alray.ps, October 22, 2017)

“It has been only a short while since the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation [agreement] was signed, [during which] I wondered, in another article, if Hamas was really serious, and if the reconciliation would cause it to return to its sanity and Arabhood… [yet] behold, just days ago [a report] was published about a Hamas delegation headed by Salah Al-‘Arouri, deputy chairman of Hamas’s political bureau, that arrived in Tehran last Friday [October 20, 2017] for a meeting with Iranian officials, as confirmed by a Hamas official… The official, who asked to remain unnamed, disclosed that the high-ranking delegation included several [other] members of Hamas’s political bureau, and that it was to meet with several Iranian officials over several days. He stated that the purpose of the visit was ‘to inform the Iranian officials about the reconciliation agreement signed by Hamas and Fatah, and about [recent] political developments,’ adding that the delegation would also discuss ‘ways to strengthen and develop the bilateral relations between Hamas and Iran and ensure Iran’s financial and political support of the movement, as well as [its assistance in] weapons.’ Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, likewise stressed that ‘Iran is the greatest supporter of the Al-Qassam Brigades,’ Hamas’s military wing, ‘in terms of weapons, money and training.’

“As is known, Iran is patron, for political purposes, of Sunni movements that maintain views that are radical in nature, among them Hamas. No one disagrees that political support is one thing and sectarian support is another. One of the paradoxes that should give pause to anyone who has tried in the past to justify Hamas is that Iran is supporting the [Sunni] Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt more than it is supporting the Shi’ite Da’wa Party in Iraq.

“In Gaza, Hamas has established an Iranian emirate that is completely subject to the Ayatollah [i.e. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei]. We have not forgotten [Hamas leader] Khaled Mash’al’s October 1, 2011 speech at Khamenei’s palace, which was basically a reiteration his loyalty and obedience [to Iran]. Mash’al was, after all, no more and no less than a clerk to Iran’s ayatollahs!

“The problem of ideological movements, such as Hizbullah and Hamas – which have marketed themselves as resistance movements while, according to the political path both have taken… are nothing but ‘contractors’ [for Iran] – is that their leveraging of in their people’s problems for political, economic, and material purposes is the dominant pattern of behavior in their activity and positions. This is proven by their position on the revolution in Syria – which corresponds to that of their patron, Iran!

“Hamas is experiencing an internal crisis – a crisis more of identity than political – vis-à-vis the Arabs or vis-à-vis several Arab countries, headed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. [Hamas] fears both these countries, [and] chose Iran not because it [Hamas] is an outcast – as those who defend its [pro-]Iran position try to claim – but because Hamas considers Iran a model it aspires [to emulate] when it establishes an Islamic emirate in Gaza.

“Hamas’s return to the [bosom of the] Iranian regime, as evident from its visit [to Tehran] – when it knows full well that the path of return to the Arab [fold] passes only through Saudi Arabia – sends a message, that Hamas is still ‘marching in place.'”[2]

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[1] On the recent rapprochement between Hamas and Iran, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No.7144, Alongside Reconciliation With Fatah, Hamas Officials Tighten Relations With Iran, Call To ‘Wipe Israel Off The Map’, October 23, 2017.

[2] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), October 23, 2017.

Saudi women are driving good news

October 5, 2017

Saudi women are driving good news, Al ArabiyaDr. Khaled M. Batarfi, October 5, 2017

It was a homegrown movement, supported by both male and female, of different ages and backgrounds, from all parts of the country, including conservative areas. The Saudi people have spoken, and a majority gave their vote to the new law — religious scholars and tribal leaders included.

The next step, we are now calling and waiting for, is the “Protection of the National Unity” law against racial, gender and religious discrimination. Hashtags advocating the law became top trends in Twitter. It is a march we started years ago. It went through the Shoura Council, and is still there.

Like any monumental change, it was resisted. Society was not ready then, but now, we believe it is. In such favorable environment our hopes are sky high. Soon enough, I expect the law to be approved with a royal decree.

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It is not easy to get used to good news! Not in this era or world! But last week, many of our overdue dreams were realized — all at once. We expect more of the same. If so, we may finally find enough reason to change our attitude from gray to bright!

For decades, some questions have been haunting me everywhere I went — in summer British schools, US colleges, international conferences and seminars, as well as, the Western media. Questions about women rights were among the most persistent — and hardest to answer.

First, you need to explain how the religion of Islam has nothing to do with the shortcomings of some Muslims. Then, you go some distance to explain why wouldn’t a system in a Muslim country adhere to Islamic Shariah. And once you clarify the influence of social customs and traditions, you may have already lost your audience!

During a recent conference, my American colleague was patient enough to go with me through all the above phases, before she asked: how could we help? I told her any help from your direction would complicate things. Saudi women are already doing their best to change society from within. They managed to reach many levels, including ministerial, and positions that were reserved for men in the past, such as security.

Today, they vote and run for offices in municipality and chamber of commerce elections. Some become chairwomen of banks and mega companies. A third of our Shoura Council members are women — more than in the US Congress and most European parliaments.

Ability to work

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has just lifted restrictions on their ability to study and work without the approval of their guardians. Girls are more than half the student population with better grades.

They had the same opportunity as males in scholarship abroad, again with higher scores. Once they graduate, they enroll as doctors, nurses, engineers, bankers, scientists and university professors, side by side with their male colleagues.

Those are more important accomplishments, in my opinion, than driving a car. Still, women right activists around the world seem to be concerned most with just this one issue, and surprisingly unaware of the giant steps taken in other areas.

Just wait a bit longer, I advised, keep to the sideline, and let our women continue their march. Soon enough more achievements will be realized, including car driving, I promised my American colleague.

We had this conversation just last month. Last week not only the ban on women driving was lifted, but we are about to have a “sexual harassment” law.

The better half

Importantly, the new driving law would treat male and female equally, including the starting age of 18 and the no-need for parental approval. Those are giant steps for our better half! They deserve them and more.

Now, I feel the urge to call my American colleague and all others whom I promised the change to tell them: Didn’t I tell so? Yes, we did it! But on our own! No one could dare to tell us we changed under foreign pressure.

It was a homegrown movement, supported by both male and female, of different ages and backgrounds, from all parts of the county, including conservative areas. The Saudi people have spoken, and a majority gave their vote to the new law — religious scholars and tribal leaders included.

The next step, we are now calling and waiting for, is the “Protection of the National Unity” law against racial, gender and religious discrimination. Hashtags advocating the law became top trends in Twitter. It is a march we started years ago. It went through the Shoura Council, and is still there.

Like any monumental change, it was resisted. Society was not ready then, but now, we believe it is. In such favorable environment our hopes are sky high. Soon enough, I expect the law to be approved with a royal degree.

Good news does come sometimes unexpectedly. I hope they continue and we get used to them. Ameen!

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on October 5, 2017.

Understanding secularism without the controversy that shrouds it

August 26, 2017

Understanding secularism without the controversy that shrouds it, Al ArabiyaHassan Al Mustafa, August 26, 2017

Unlike the Arab stereotype, secularism protects the freedom of religion by the power of law and guarantees freedom of belief and expression and grants the faithful their right to practice it.

Secularism does not prevent one from believing in a certain faith because it’s based on individual choices and complete individual freedoms. It rather organizes intertwining between religion and the public space in a way where religion has the right to exist and appear but without overpowering others or denying plurality.

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Secularism in speeches by Arab figures of authority is often controversial among Islamic and liberal movements. “Secularism” has thus become a subject for political and partisan arguments rather than a concept to be discussed to gain knowledge and modernize.

Addressing secularism from this perspective became common. However the discussion entails a shallow definition of the concept and does not accurately and properly understand it or comprehend its meanings, representations and historical and philosophical context.

One can do a simple experiment and ask members of any random council about the meaning of secularism, what it means to them and whether they have a positive or a negative interpretation of it. They will respond with plenty of nonsense that’s irrelevant to the philosophical term which contributed to build the civil modern state in Europe via laws and legislations.

Ideologically used

The word “secularization” has been ideologically used to serve certain aims and it was either presented as the antithesis of religion to intimidate people or marketed as an easy approach that lessens the burden of piousness. Both reflect a populist and ignorant mentality.

Secularism is not a solid concept that has remained the same ever since it was established; it has developed a lot due to practical experiences when structuring states and societies. Discussions between philosophers and scholars, especially in the fields of political sciences and theology, have also contributed to developing the concept.

Secularism has many facets, such as one related to liberal modernization which organizes the presence of religion in the public field and its limits. In other words, it prevents ideologization from dominating the scene in order to preserve two basic values, the civil state and a person’s individuality. It does so without being the antithesis of religion and without cancelling it out.

Unlike the Arab stereotype, secularism protects the freedom of religion by the power of law and guarantees freedom of belief and expression and grants the faithful their right to practice it.

Secularism does not prevent one from believing in a certain faith because it’s based on individual choices and complete individual freedoms. It rather organizes intertwining between religion and the public space in a way where religion has the right to exist and appear but without overpowering others or denying plurality.

Therefore, there are no conflicts between secularism and a man’s religion or between secularism and the collective religious identity. There is conflict between secularism and political Islam and religious fundamentalism because the latter are two ideologies which have their own political and social projects that do not believe in liberal values on which secularism was built.

One of secularism’s major features is that it grants the state its civil character. The state is about managing affairs and it’s not linked to religion. Religion is the business of individuals and believers. The state is for everyone, regardless of their different ideas, beliefs and doctrines.

Editor Of ‘Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’: The Indian Prime Minister’s Visit To Israel – Cause For Arab Envy

July 24, 2017

Editor Of ‘Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’: The Indian Prime Minister’s Visit To Israel – Cause For Arab Envy, MEMRI,July 24, 2017

Following the recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Israel and his failure to visit Ramallah, Ghassan Charbel, editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, published an article about the economic and cultural gaps between the West and the Arab world and about the contrast between Israel’s successes in science and technology and the weaknesses of its Arab neighbors, as reflected in Modi’s Israel visit. Charbel noted that the West pays close attention to issues such as human rights, protection of the environment, and public health, while the Arab world neglects them, which is why Arabs feel envious of the West. As for Israel, Charbel notes its scientific and technological capabilities and what it has to offer to a giant world power such as India, contrasting it with Israel’s neighbors, mired in extremism and internal wars. Charbel notes that in the past India was the first country to support the Palestinians in every way, while today its Prime Minister, upon visiting the region, ignored them completely. According to Charbel, this causes Arabs to feel not only envious but completely defeated.

The following are excerpts from his article:[1]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (image: watanserb.com)

“The Arab feels envy when he comes into contact with the developed world. A friend of mine fled his country, which is sinking into darkness and despair, and settled in London. He bought a house [there] and waited for the war [in his country] to end. One day, a tree in his small garden bothered him and he decided to ‘execute’ it. He asked his British neighbor if he knew someone who could do the job, and the neighbor laughed [and said], ‘you have no right to kill the tree, even if it belongs to you. First, you have to submit a request to the local council and convince it of the reasons [for your wish to cut down the tree]. The law here protects trees. You have to obtain a permit, and only after that comes the job of the murderer.’

“My friend was astonished. He comes from a world in which an [entire] city can be razed and no one would bat an eyelash. A citizen can be killed, and neither his wife nor his mother will have the right to ask why… A tree here [in Britain] has more rights than a citizen of the [Arab] countries of torture and suffering.

“Envy is neither a useful nor a noble emotion and it usually opens the gates of bitterness and hatred, [yet] it is not unusual for an Arab to suffer from this malady [of envy]. If an Arab visits a museum in a developed country he immediately thinks about what happened to the antiquities in Iraq and in Syria… If he notices the attention paid in Oslo to public health he remembers where the sewage flows in some Arab capital or another.

“Trying to minimize his disappointment, the Arab sometimes searches for excuses for the yawning chasm between him and the developed world. We are in a completely different historical phase. Those countries [in Europe] are reaping the fruits of great events that occurred there and changed the face of the world: the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the ideas of the Renaissance, the separation of church and state, German philosophy, and the huge change in the status of women.

“The Arab feels envy again, [because] the Europeans experienced wars between nationalities and sects, border disputes and plans for conquering and wiping out [the other]. They painted the continent and the whole world with blood – but they emerged in the end with conclusions. The empires became [exhibits on] museum shelves and sentences in history books; borders were transformed into bridges, not walls; [the European] societies accepted the right to be different. Minorities are no longer thought of as mines that must be defused. The constitutions [in Europe] prevent the majority from erasing the characteristics of those who disagree with it. These countries no longer seek historic leaders whose biographies are soaked in blood; they seek governments that devote [themselves] to fighting unemployment, developing the economy, encouraging investments, protecting the environment, and [combatting] the problem of climate change. The visiting Arab is consumed with envy.

“Let us set aside talk of trees and antiquities, since there is worse to come. The Arab notes that [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled all his plans so he could graciously receive his guest, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Israel. Another thing that attracted attention was that the guest felt no need to visit Ramallah, which gladdened his hosts. We are talking about India, which was the first to express understanding for the aspirations of the Palestinians and did not hesitate to stand alongside them in international forums…

“Modi evidently sees Israel as a technological lighthouse, and spoke about the need for his gigantic country to benefit from Israel’s capabilities in this sphere. The result was that Modi and Netanyahu signed an agreement worth $2 billion, according to which India will receive the Israeli Iron Dome System to [detect and intercept] rockets and artillery. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to establish an India-Israel Industrial R&D and Innovation Fund. Other agreements included areas such as water, agricultural development in India, and partnership in economic projects in Africa and the developing world.

“It is not enough to explain what happened by saying that Modi belongs to an extremist nationalist Hindu stream and that ‘jihadist’ terrorism increased his conviction that ties with Israel should be strengthened. The important point is that a country the size of Israel has something to offer the Indian army, beyond the role it [already] played in the past in developing the Soviet and Russian weapons that were owned by India; that it also has something to offer [in the spheres of] agricultural development and treatment of water problems, and [can maintain] a strategic military, security, and economic relationship with a country of the size and stature of India.

“The Arab was disturbed by the arrogance of Netanyahu’s speeches during Modi’s visit, but when he opened the map of the terrifying Middle East, he discovered that Israel had achieved a series of victories in recent years without firing a single bullet. Maps, countries, armies and economies around it have crumbled. Waves of extremism caused catastrophes in some parts of the Arab world compared to which the Palestinian Nakba is but one clause among many.

“This time the Arab felt not only envy, but felt the total defeat of the one who cannot join the [modern] era.”

 

[1]Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 10, 2017.

Saudi Columnist: Christians Should Be Accepted As Equal Citizens, Not Treated As ‘Protected People’ (Dhimmis)

July 20, 2017

Saudi Columnist: Christians Should Be Accepted As Equal Citizens, Not Treated As ‘Protected People’ (Dhimmis), MEMRI, July 20, 2017

These descriptions belong to an Islamic law perception of reality, which, from a modern perspective, is mistaken, and highlights the difference between reality as perceived by Islamic law and actual reality. All these labels [to describe non-Muslims] belong to a bygone historic age, hence the discrepancy [between the perceptions].

“The relationship between the modern state and its citizens is based on the principle of citizenship, which holds that all citizens are equal in rights and obligations, regardless of their religion and social affiliation. Every citizen has an equal right to the homeland, and his civil rights are derived from the validity of this, not from his religious affiliation. Therefore, in today’s world there is no one who may rightly be referred to as a ‘protected person’ or ‘protection seeker.’ A citizen is a citizen, and that’s all there is to it.

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Following the April 8, 2017 terrorist attacks against the churches in Alexandria and Tanta in Egypt, Tawfiq Al-Sayf, a columnist for the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, criticized Islamic countries for continuing to treat Christians as “protected people” (dhimmis), and not as citizens with equal rights. Al-Sayf called to abandon this approach, for it is based on Islamic law, which he says is not appropriate for the modern era and reality, and instead to adopt the modern concept of citizenship.

The church in Tanta, Egypt after the attack Source: Elaph.com

The following are translated excerpts from his column:[1]

“The terrorist attack against the two churches in Egypt generated a broad wave of condemnation among all Muslims –religious scholars, the general public, and politicians. I thank God that no one is praising these crimes, or justifying them. This is a positive development. [However,] in the statements of condemnation, my attention was drawn to the repeated use of terms such as ‘protection seekers,’ ‘protected people’ (dhimmis), ‘ and ‘People of the Book’ to describe the Coptic citizens who were the victims of the treacherous attack. Such terms are usually found in discussions among clerics, [who use it] to emphasize the prohibition against attacking non-Muslims. These terms are not neutral linguistic generalizations, but rather ‘facts [fixed] in the Islamic shari’a,’ according to the perception of the extremists, i.e. special terms charged with specific meaning. They are used… to refer to a totality of inter-relationships and categories, or [to grant] uniform meaning to the status of [certain] people in relationship to the person talking. These descriptions belong to an Islamic law perception of reality, which, from a modern perspective, is mistaken, and highlights the difference between reality as perceived by Islamic law and actual reality. All these labels [to describe non-Muslims] belong to a bygone historic age, hence the discrepancy [between the perceptions].

“These descriptions were coined with the inception of the [original] Islamic state, when its troops spread to [different] countries and it expanded, and relationships between Muslims and others developed. Thus there was a need to regulate the relationship between the victorious superpower and its strong [Muslim] people, and the weak individuals who surrendered voluntarily or were defeated. In these unique circumstances, these expressions were intended to emphasize the political control and responsibility of the state for all its subjects…

“As time passed and the Islamic legal perception permeated the general culture, religious affiliation became the only aspect [defining] social relationships, while [the proponents] of this approach failed to understand that it belonged to a bygone era. The concept of protection and patronage remained central to the definition of the relationship with non-Muslims, but at the same time they were not considered equal partners with respect to all rights, or ‘citizens’ in the modern sense. This approach is maintained in the Islamic law of today. A quick glance at numerous writings on this subject by modern-day Islamic jurisprudents and Islamic commentators is sufficient to reveal the problem with which they grappled when they wanted to consolidate an approach that would accommodate the heritage of religious law on the one hand, and the principles of [modern] politics, law, human rights and justice on the other.

“In fact, there is no need to settle the contradiction. [The concept of] the modern state belongs to a different set of ideas than the [concept of] state that existed at the time of the ancient Islamic state. In other words, it is something different, that can’t be comprehended in terms of the ancient approach…

“The relationship between the modern state and its citizens is based on the principle of citizenship, which holds that all citizens are equal in rights and obligations, regardless of their religion and social affiliation. Every citizen has an equal right to the homeland, and his civil rights are derived from the validity of this, not from his religious affiliation. Therefore, in today’s world there is no one who may rightly be referred to as a ‘protected person’ or ‘protection seeker.’ A citizen is a citizen, and that’s all there is to it.

“For the general public, this conclusion is nothing new, but I thought this was an appropriate opportunity to draw the attention of Islamic jurisprudents and their disciples to the difference between inherited thinking and the reality of our world today. This is a call to abandon the ancient perceptions, which are no longer useful and are unrealistic. It is a call to direct thinking to the real world and to adapt to it, rather than reduce thinking to a world of ancient documents and writings, and adhere to them and to their flaws.”

______________________

[1]Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 12, 2017.

Girl in Saudi Gone Wild: There she was just a ’walkin’ down the mud-caked alley

July 20, 2017

Girl in Saudi Gone Wild: There she was just a ’walkin’ down the mud-caked alley, Al ArabiyaFatimah S. Baeshen, July 20, 2017

(An article of this sort probably would not have been published by Saudi media, and the young lady probably would not have been released, before President Trump’s Arab Summit and the elevation of the current, reform-minded, crown prince. — DM)

This op-ed was written before Khuloud was released.

A strut and a milliseconds-long backwards glance has captured the world’s attention.

The strut and glance in question were made by Khulood Al-Yafie, a beautiful miniskirt and crop top clad Yemeni woman visiting Saudi Arabia’s Ushaiger cultural heritage site. Her tour, recorded on video (which has since gone viral) has not only invoked the wrath of the Kingdom’s religious police and sizable conservative population but indirectly expanded the scope of social and cultural discourse inside the Kingdom.

I have visited Ushaiger. It is a sleepy historical site just outside the Saudi capital, Riyadh; a labyrinth of mudhuts and alleys that speaks to the country’s centuries-old heritage. For generations, the same families have occupied this religiously-conservative part of the country. So, a stunt like this tends to attract a tremendous amount of (possibly unwanted) publicity (despite the potentially positive ramifications for Saudi tourism – but I digress).

The moral issue

Questions as to the rightness or wrongness of Khulood’s actions aside, I want to spotlight the range of responses this incident elicited, rather than the incident itself, to highlight an important point about the role social media is playing in expanding the Kingdom’s public sphere (and the diversity of opinions contained within). After all the only reason we are talking about a beautiful woman’s stroll down a mud-caked alley is because said stroll occurred in a country popularly known in Western culture for autocracy, repression, and austere religious practices.

Historically, the Royal Court, the Council of Ministers, and the Shoura Council—have dominated decision making in the Kingdom. However, over the last ten years, the government has increasingly moved to allow for extended periods of public discourse on social, cultural, economic, and on very rare occasions, political moves.

This has occurred for several reasons; most importantly, either to normalize a controversial change through prolonged discussion or to hear the array of opinions that exist as they pertain to potential critical reforms in the hope of building a broader consensus. The key point is that once the public debate plays out it culminates into policy-change.

With this latest event we are witnessing, live and in real time, the expansion of social and cultural discourse in the Kingdom. And as with previous expansions, this incident may also come to impact policy; in this case, by further advancing women’s rights.

The fact that a women was bold enough to walk through Ushaiger, a traditional heritage site in the heart of Najd (the Kingdom’s conservative central region) without an abayah while wearing a mini-skirt and crop top speaks volumes as to where the Kingdom is heading with respect to social and cultural change. For this bold move to be captured and disseminated is one measure of progress but for the public – men and woman, conservatives and progressives – to freely debate this matter on social media is another sign of advancement in and of itself.

Oh, the times they are a’changin’…

I recently published Freedom of Tweet and Freedom to Seat, a report reviewing what the 1st amendment looks like in Saudi Arabia. In it, I discuss how a localized form of freedom of speech has not only been tolerated, but expanded, accommodated, and used to inform policy-decisions.

“In June 2013, Saudi Arabia changed from a Thursday–Friday to a Friday– Saturday weekend to align itself with other Middle Eastern economies, this despite pushback from the conservative base arguing that to do so would mimic the Western lifestyle. However, the government publicly floated the idea several years prior to instituting the change.

They allowed the Saudi public to openly debate the issue via informal channels such as Twitter, op-eds, and coffee shop conversations. Actual implementation of the transformation was quick—Saudis received one week’s notice— but, because this followed years of frank discussion, opposition to the change was limited.”

Khulood’s action, and the debate surrounding it, may well yield a similar result.

As for Khulood herself, she has been taken in for questioning by police and will likely be asked to sign a pledge not to repeat her actions, in order to placate Saudi’s more conservative elements, before ultimately being released.

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Fatimah S. Baeshen is a director at the Arabia Foundation. A Saudi national, she joined the Arabia Foundation after having worked with the Saudi Ministry of Labor and the Saudi Ministry of Economy and Planning in Riyadh between 2014 and 2017. Her focus areas include the labor market, private sector development, and women’s economic empowerment.