Education Ministry Warns Students Against Mocking Islam

Arab News reports:

The Ministry of Education has warned that it would expel any student found mocking Islam or spreading illicit ideas at school. Penalties for violating the code of behavior include preventing a student from pursuing studies for one academic year.

Former US diplomat John Burgess says this a “major step back” for the minister. “People do not respect that which has to be beaten into them,” he wrote on his blog Crossroads Arabia. “Behavior based on fear of consequences is the least desirable kind of ‘good behavior’.”

New Women Driving Campaign Launched

Yours truly for al-Monitor on the new women driving campaign:

The new campaign comes at an interesting time for Saudi Arabia. The country has largely managed to escape the wave of Arab uprisings without a major street-protest movement challenging the government, but the tech-savvy young population has become increasingly critical of official policies, using social-media sites like Twitter and YouTube to express their displeasure.

The official campaign’s site is here.

Saudi Women Activists Face Jail for Helping Canadian

A Saudi appeals court upheld a jail sentence against two women rights activists. Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni were sentenced last June to 10 months in jail followed by a 2-year travel ban for seeking to help a Canadian woman who wanted to leave her Saudi husband with their children.

“The sentence could be carried out in the next few days,” al-Huwaider said on Wednesday.

The activist said the court’s decision to uphold the sentence “sends a strong message to all Saudi women saying anyone who demands social justice for her fellow women will face the same fate, and will have to deal with what is worse if necessary.”

Al-Huwaider, a member of Human Rights Watch Middle East advisory committee, said she believes the government pursued case to punish her for unrelated women’s rights activism over the the years, including calls to lift the ban on driving.

HRW urged the Saudi government to drop the case against al-Huwaider and al-Oyouni.

Tata to Open All-Female Outsourcing Center in Riyadh

The Financial Times:

Tata Consultancy Services, India’s largest software developer by sales, on Tuesday unveiled its debut “all-female services centre” in the capital, Riyadh, part of plans to access a largely untapped pool of workers in the segregated Middle Eastern nation.

The operation will be run as a joint venture with General Electric, the US industrial group, which will hold a minority stake, while GE and Saudi Aramco, a large state-backed oil company, will be early clients.

The JV will not offer a call-center service, but it will provide other back-office functions like human resources and finance.

Saudi Worst on Women’s Legal Issues

Stella Dawson for Reuters:

Saudi Arabia tops the list of countries for laws that limit women’s economic potential, while South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have made the least progress over the last 50 years in improving women’s economic opportunities, a report issued on Tuesday says.

The full report can be found here.

‘No Easy Task’

Walid A. Jawad:

As Saudis celebrate their national day on September 23 they are reminded of their status among other Arab nations, including those of the Arab Spring revolutionary club, which are not faring well at the moment. As much as progressive Saudis crave freedom and human rights, they are not willing to commit to a revolutionary strategy that would push the country to protracted civil unrest. As a result, reform efforts focus on expanding the narrow margins of freedom of speech in the country to include more voices.

Shoura Member Asks Police to Monitor Twitter

Issa al-Ghaith:

“With the increasing use of modern means of communication and social networking, some people make personal insults and false accusations against others and spread lies about them through the Internet and online forums. Hence, there is need for the police to allocate a website that will receive reports and complaints from victims.”

Not that Al-Ghaith, former judge and current member of the advisory Shoura Council, has been waiting for such website to sue people who attack him on Twitter. Last March he threatened to sue a conservative writer who posted critical tweets of him, and in April he filed a lawsuit against popular cleric Mohammed al-Arefi after he retweeted a poem that al-Ghaith deemed defamatory.