How to Reconcile Segregation and Equality

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Mona al-Ankary:

Today, women are capable of engaging in civil activities and are also capable of holding high-level posts. However, women’s participation in society must be governed by the regulations of Islamic sharia law, so that they are not rushed in before everything has been arranged and organized. Women must be allowed to work freely within a female-only environment, without the possibility of mixing with males. Modern technology today can help, through the use of teleconferences, e-mail, and so on.

Gender segregation remains a core issue for many Saudi conservative women activists like al-Ankary, and they see it as a precondition to gain more political and social rights.

Chart: Saudi Tops the World in Oversharing

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Internet users in Saudi Arabia are very comfortable sharing information online, new research reveals. This chart comes from the “2013 Internet Trends” presentation given by Mary Meeker of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers during the D11 conference in New York this week, and it shows that Saudis share more than double the world average.

Saudi Arabia Bans Import of V for Vendetta Masks

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Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif has ordered to confiscate and ban the importation of the V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes masks, al-Madina daily reported on Thursday. The Ministry of Commerce will confiscate the mask from stores across the country and importers have been told to stop bringing the mask to the Saudi market.

The mask has come to represent a universal symbol of protest, and it has been worn by protesters in the Middle East as well as the Occupy movement. In November 2012, the UAE declared the mask illegal and have warned against people wearing them. Earlier this year Bahrain announced that anyone caught importing the mask faces arrest, according to the Independent.

The Saudi Interior Minister’s order comes few days after the Ministry of Islamic Affairs warned young people against wearing the mask. “The Ministry noted that this mask is a symbol of rebels and revenge, and is being promoted on the internet,” al-Madina reported earlier this week. The Ministry told mosque imams and parents to warn against “these foreign things to our conservative society” because “they could be used to incite the youth to destabilize security and spread chaos…”

The mask is a stylized interpretation of Guy Fawkes, a member of a group of subversives who took part in an attempt to assassinate King James I in a failed 1605 plot that has become known as the “Gunpowder Plot.” It first became popular after the release of the 2005 film V For Vendetta, which was inspired by a graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd.

Lloyd told the BBC News Magazine in October 2011 that “The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny.”

Photo courtesy of Benoit Perrot via Flickr

Conservative Writer Calls for Molesting Women Cashiers

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A Saudi writer has urged his Twitter followers to sexually molest women hired to work as cashiers in big grocery stores, the latest backlash from conservatives who want to roll back limited social and economic reforms launched in the world’s leading oil exporter.

Abdullah Mohamed al-Dawood, who writes self-help books including one called The Joy of Life, has stirred fierce debate this week via the internet microblogging service with the use of the hashtag #harass-female-cashiers, to press for Saudi women to be forced to stay at home to protect their chastity.

Al-Dawood is the same conservative writer who has previously sparked another controversy when he said that baby girls should be fully covered using the face veil to protect them from sexual molestation.

Five New MERS Cases Confirmed in Eastern Saudi

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Saudi Arabia confirmed on Tuesday five new cases of the new MERS coronavirus. The Ministry of Health said in a brief statement published on its website that the five cases were reported in the Eastern Province in patients aged between 73 to 85. All of them have chronic diseases, the ministry said. This raises to 35 the number of confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia, the highest number by far in the world. Other cases have also been detected in Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, UAE, Germany, Britain and France.

Saudi Activists Appeal Lengthy Jail Sentences

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A lawyer for two prominent Saudi human rights activists has filed an appeal of a Riyadh’s court decision to sentence Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamed to jail and travel bans for founding a civil society organization.

“I have just left the court after filing two appeals memos for brothers al-Hamed and al-Qahtani,” lawyer Ibrahim al-Modaimeegh said Tuesday morning on Twitter. “May God make it beneficial to achieve the desired justice.”

The Criminal Court in Riyadh in March sentenced al-Qahtani and al-Hamed to 10 and 11 years in jail, respectively, for their role as co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Organization (ACPRA). In relation to that, the two activists faced charges such as disobeying the ruler, founding an unlicensed organization, inciting disorder by calling for demonstrations, and damaging the image of the state by disseminating false information to foreign organization.

The two men’s main defense lawyer Abd al-Aziz al-Hussan said earlier this month that he has been hounded out of the country for defending the two activists. Al-Hussan was interrogated after he tweeted that prison officials refused to remove the handcuffs off his clients when visited them in jail.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International described the appeal as “a bid for justice amid a broader crackdown on activism” in Saudi Arabia.

“The charges levied against these men are founded on nothing but injustice and mark another attempt by the authorities to place a stranglehold on basic freedoms. The sentences must be overturned immediately”, said Ann Harrison, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director at Amnesty International in statement released on Tuesday.

Abdulkareem al-Khoder, another co-founder of ACPRA, was sentenced in April to four months in prison after he had refused to attend his court session in protest against the judge blocking 10 women from entering the courtroom, while Fawzan al-Harbi, also co-founder of ACPRA, has been under investigation since 11 May 2013, facing similar charges to his colleagues.

Amnesty urged Saudi Arabia to stop its crackdown against activists. “The ongoing persecution of human rights activists shows alarming contempt by the government towards independent organizations,” Harrison said. “The Saudi Arabian authorities must stop the harassment of activists.”

Photos: (Don’t) Hit Her

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A group of young Saudis are taking part in a new social media campaign to condemn violence against women. In the campaign, young men and woman pose in front of the camera carrying a placard with their own words. The campaign slogan, “Hit Her,” is a clever message calling on men to dare hit women and face the consequences of that action.

The campaign was launched last week and is sponsored by Libra Productions, a sound studio and music management agency based in Jeddah. They have been posting photos and awareness messages on their Twitter account using the hashtag #اضربها. The company also partnered with a law firm to provide consultations for those who need it.

The National Family Safety Program (NFSP) said that three out of 10 women in Saudi Arabia are subjected to domestic violence. Maha al-Muneef, head of NFSP, said during a recent meeting of experts on the subject that media has a crucial role in raising awareness and that it is “one of the bases of dealing with domestic violence in society.”

In order to raise awareness, several campaigns have been launched recently to combat violence against women. Last month, King Khaled Foundation started a “No More Abuse” campaign that has been widely covered by international media as the first of its kind in the country. Few weeks later a group of activists and writers began a local White Ribbon campaign that has faced a backlash by ultraconservative clerics.

Columnist Samar Fatany wrote earlier this month that violence against women is on the rise in Saudi Arabia despite recent efforts to put a stop to this dangerous phenomenon. “Unfortunately, there are no specific criminal laws addressing violence against women and children,” she said. “Domestic violence cases can be the subject of a police investigation; however, they are not treated as serious criminal cases and they are not prosecuted in court.”