Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It's the Saudi Segregation hour...

I found this provocative opinion piece over at Arab News to be quite interesting. I had heard about the situation in Jeddah but not the other two. I've cherry picked some choice snippets but do please go read the whole thing to get the full flavor of the absurdity of the He-Man Woman Haters Club that is modern day Saudi Arabia. Citizens not question marks.

ARE WOMEN intruders in this country? This is a question that never stops buzzing in my head. Two stories in this week’s local press made me wonder repeatedly about the respect that women as citizens should be treated with.

But we have to remember that we always say that Islam treats women fairly and that they are equal to men and we hold the Hadith “the best of men are those who are the best with their families” as a slogan.

However, despite all our religious discourse, it seems and it feels that the discourse is there just for public consumption only, to be repeated in books and on television programs, but not applied in real life. And, unfortunately, we are never short of examples of our rhetoric not matching our actions.

The authorities at the Holy Mosque in Makkah have asked Saudi Television to be careful when positioning their cameras on women worshippers, after some viewers complained that women were being focused on too much. The complainants, who were quoted in local papers, added that the cameras concentrated on women’s faces and that this might “reveal their beauty”.

Television officials answered that the cameramen and producers move the cameras over the crowds, picking single shots that reflect deep emotions and spiritual engagement whether in men, women or children.

Despite what the TV producers say, we should soon expect a restriction on filming women in the Holy Mosque. One should ask here, if those women are in the middle of a mosque praying next to men, why then is it very unusual to transmit their images on TV? What should those women do? They are in the Holy Mosque, wearing their full hijab and praying, what is it in their appearance that critics think inappropriate?

...That same logic was behind what happened in Al-Balad in Jeddah few days ago when women shoppers were prevented from sitting down to eat their Iftar while men were sitting around them. Al-Watan newspaper carried the story: At Iftar time in Al-Balad and near food stalls, shoppers had to stop to break their fast and since these stalls had tables and chairs, some women sat down to eat their Iftar at which point, some Commission on the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue members approached them and told them to leave because it was a men only area. The women were then forced to eat their food standing up while men sat around them at the tables. The commission said that it was preventing mixing of the sexes, which seems to be a feeble excuse, since the women were standing nearby, so basically the only difference was their discomfort...

The last item this week that caught my attention was a story carried by both Al-Watan and Forbes Arabia magazine. A store-owner in Jeddah recently asked his loyal customers to write their names on the walls of his newly-decorated store, and as a result around 2,000 of his customers signed their names on the walls. So far it seemed to be a clever PR stunt from the owner, but there is a catch here. The customers were both male and female, and since some female names appeared on the wall, the Commission found it improper and called the owner to ask him about why he let women write their names in the store. The owner told Forbes Arabia that an agreement was reached whereby the women’s first names were replaced by a question mark leaving only their family names. A question mark! Should we even comment here?