Bananas & Monkeys


In El Madrigal stadium and during Barcelona’s game against Villarreal in the Spanish Liga, Barcelona was ahead by a score of 3/2, dark skinned Brazilian player Daniel Alves was getting ready for a corner kick when a Villarreal fan threw a banana at him.

Danny’s reaction was utterly simple; he picked up the banana, took a bite, threw away the rest of it and continued playing. But for the Sports scene worldwide, that bite didn’t go by that simply, and unleashed bottled up anger and resentment against racism in sports.

Alves’ banana coincided with another incident in the US; a leaked phone call between Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA team Los Angeles Clippers, and his girlfriend. Sterling was asking her not to appear in public with colored athletes, including NBA legend Magic Johnson

As I’m writing this from Rio de Janeiro, I was able to personally feel the Brazilians’ anger at this insult. Famous Brazilian football player, Neymar, appeared on TV eating a banana to show his support for his colleague, and launching the “Somos todos macacos” or “We’re all monkeys” campaign. The campaign gained enormous support, nationwide and worldwide, and even Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff participated, as well as many celebrities worldwide. Daniel Alves appeared on the cover of Veja, the most prominent magazine in Brazil, giving the “banana gesture”, which means (I don’t care) or (go to hell).

The Villarreal fan who threw the infamous banana was arrested, and turned out to be an employee of Villarreal. He was fired and banned from working for the club for life, and may even face up to three years of jail time for promoting racism. Donald Sterling faces a 2.5 million-dollar-fine, the largest ever in the history of sports in the US, as well as pressure from the NBA and other team owners, which will inevitably force him to sell the L.A. Clippers.

The same week the world has shown zero tolerance for racism in the international sports scene, there was a similar incidence back home. After the Saudi team Al-Ahly was defeated in the final match of the King’s Cup, Ahly player and Saudi national team captain, Tayseer Al-Jassem, a Shiite, was the victim of racist attack from Ahly fans.

Tayseer Al-Jassem walked out of the field in tears, and his brother stated that he might not continue playing for Ahly, and would play in the Qatari league instead. Tayseer is one of the most prominent Saudi football players, and is well known for his good morals and discipline. Al-Jassem has been a target for racist attacks for while now, as I noticed from his twitter account, which he quite abandoned since October 2012, because of the depressing racial comments following his every tweet.

A radical anti-Shiite channel, broadcast from Saudi Arabia, Al-Wessal, aired an episode called “Agents of Iran”, during which Sheikh Ghazi Al-Fareeqa launched an attack on Tayseer Al-Jassem, saying: “It’s shocking for me to see a leading Shiite football player amongst his fans, who curses our Mother Aisha, but instead cheer for him. As for me, I trust more in the faith of a drug dealer who refuses to curse our mother Aisha -than him- And the fans, even if they don’t fulfill God’s every order, are good, faithful Sunnis”.

The channel still broadcasts, our national newspapers didn’t run the sectarian statements, and no reaction was to be heard from Al-Ahly management against their racist fans, and not even an apology to their captain was issued. There was no formal, or even informal, reaction from the General Presidency for Youth Welfare.

Up till now, we don’t have a law in Saudi that incriminates racism, not even in sport. Yet there’s a hope; Saudis on Twitter started a group of hashtags that apologize to Tayseer Al-Jassem and denounce racism, most famous was (We’re all Tayseer).

One tweep wrote: “Tayseer’s foot is more useful to this country than your wasted brain cells, and his shoe is cleaner than your vile tongues”.

This hashtag is still active, and it has forced Al-Wessal channel to tweet in defense, apologizing to Tayseer.

Ironically, though, one of its tweets says: “Wessal’s main goal is to attract and convert the general Shiite population, saving them from hell. Badmouthing one of them means destruction for the channel and its message”. Typical the epitome of pride and monopolizing the truth.

My only comment here is to remind you of a story that happened in Munich last May. One of Bayern Munich Muslim players made a formal request for the club management, asking to appoint a room for prayer. The club responded by largely financing the establishment of a large mosque in its headquarters. It’s sad to compare the state of tolerance the world sports scene, to our own near-sightedness, at the heart of the Islamic world.

The renowned Palestinian Muslim scholar Sheikh Adnan Ibrahim said once, in his speech “The Fiqh of Criminals”, or the Criminal Islamic jurisprudence:

“May Allah avenge us from those sheikhs and clerics who spread hatred amongst Muslims, and plant spite in our hearts against the whole world, calling them heretics, infidels and enemies of Allah. We now deny Allah’s blessings; you live there, in Western countries, enjoy your peace, eat off their tax-payers’ money, and then the first chance you get, you go: (I’ll kill & butcher them). What religion is this? What fiqh? It’s the fiqh of criminals. Those are people who lost their humanity in the name of religion. Whose religion is this? Genghis Khan’s? It’s definitely not the religion of the Holy Qur’an that says; (And we have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the whole world). What’s this craziness we live in? O’ Allah, we denounce them, for they’ve wronged themselves, their religion, and prophet Muhammad”.


Manal Al Sherif

I ran into this by accident.. My eyes filled with tears.. And women are still minors in my country.. and women are still not able to drive..

Saudiwoman's Weblog

A couple of weeks back an event page was created on Facebook calling on women to drive their cars on June 17th. The page was started by a group of individuals, one of whom was Manal Al Sharif. As news of the page got around, it caused a lot of controversy and more Facebook pages. The pages that were created are reflective of the different types of reaction such a call has caused in Saudis. One of the pages is a campaign for Saudi to whip women who drive on June 17th and another is simply an anti women driving campaign page. The former has over 1900 supporters and the latter has 2800 supporters. On top of that we have a sheikh Dr. Al Habdan who has made it his personal mission to make sure no woman drives in Saudi. He has called on the PVPV to…

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San Francisco Freedom Forum Speech

Good morning, my name is Manal al Sharif, I come from the kingdom of Saudi men…

It is an immense and totally unexpected honor to be here, among all of you, and in the presence of so many people I admire and have looked up to. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Yang Jianli, Marina Nemat, you are all role models for me. You are living proof that the struggle is worth it and that it takes both determination and patience to move the mountains that hinder our path to true freedom and prosperity.

If someone told me a year ago that I would be standing here today I would not have believed it. Back then I was just a single mom who worked as an information security specialist to support her family. Although, I am unemployed today, I am happier and more filled with purpose than ever.

Recently I have I learnt that speaking out against the status quo is indeed the most difficult thing to do.

In my case, the status quo I had challenged was my nation’s ban on women driving. For outsiders the issue is hard to grapple with. Few can understand the depth of the issue as it is such a non issue in the rest of the world. But in Saudi Arabia women driving goes beyond the mundane matter of a woman getting her hands on the wheel. It is all about the political, social and economical consequences of lifting such ban.

The freedom of movement that lifting the ban implies is what has the conservative factions within our society so rigid about maintaining it. The money raked from importing over a million foreign drivers from South East Asia to drive women around is an opportunity for profit that many are not willing to relinquish. And more importantly, calls for change from the people are not welcomed at all in an absolute monarchy that demands allegiance from its citizens by professing to be the sole protectors of their faith and well-fare.

This might explain the backlash I got when I uploaded a YouTube video in which I talked – while driving – about lifting the ban and proposed June 17th as a day to begin getting our country used to seeing women in the driver’s seat. I was under the false impression that Saudi society was opening up and that the government was also pushing towards more opportunities for women.

But I guess I miscalculated. For my ‘crime’ I was jailed for nine days while the whole country went into a frenzy, some criticizing and some in support. Many within the religious establishment took the Friday prayer sermon as an opportunity to condemn me. They called me a traitor, an evil doer, a conspirator and one cleric went as far as to say that I should have been flogged.

Those who saw fit to jail me unintentionally did a great deal to insure the success of theJune 17th movement; tens of women across the country took to the wheel with many of them uploading their own videos on YouTube. These were women I had never met, and who had never heard about me before I was jailed. They went out to join theJune 17th initiative and risked jail themselves. I am happy to say that sanity prevailed and not a single woman was jailed that day, yet we did get the first ever ticket issued to a woman in the history of Saudi.

For all my tech savvy, just a few years ago, I would never have been able to reach out – or to offend – so many of my countrymen and women. In an absolute monarchy where people are imprisoned without charge – sometimes for years, for starting an NGO, protesting in the streets or even publishing an essay that questions the government, there were no platforms from which average citizens could air their views.

Not until social media came along. What most in the world use for information, recreation and to stay in touch with family and friends, in Saudi Arabia has become a democratic sandbox, our personal bully pulpit, and yes, our comfort blanket and shield.

Social media has played a pivotal role in ensuring that the June 17th initiative grew into a whole campaign that encompassed not only the ban on women driving but so much more. Through social media a fluid and grass-root campaign was born, the Right to Dignity campaign, whose members have grown to thousands of Saudi men and women across the country. The only way that the campaign communicates with its members is through social media.

And since the local press will not cover our demands, we send our press releases, petitions and statements through Twitter. We would not have gotten very far without Twitter.

Some people have called our movement the Saudi Women’s Spring. But, let’s be serious, we are still way behind the starting point of those revolutions. 50% of our population is yet to achieve basic rights that others take for granted as they fight for real democracy.

Yet, I’m happy to report some positive changes have accrued in the last year:

Although physical education is still not a part of the state girl schools’ curriculum and access to sports facilities is rare for Saudi women, I’m happy that we’ve finally, as you’ve all probably heard, had the historic achievement of opening the door and having Saudi women compete in the Olympics.

In June 2011, King Abdullah decreed that women would be allowed to work openly in retail and take jobs such as sales clerks and cashiers. Although transportation and guardianship laws remain an obstacle in the way of women empowerment, this decree has allowed over 40 thousand women a means of supporting themselves and their families.

In September 2011, King Abdullah issued another landmark decree that women will have the right to stand and vote in future local elections and join the advisory Shura council as full members. Though there is no denying that it remains a stick in the throat for most Saudis that all 150 members of the council are appointed by the king rather than voted in by the people.

As of 2012 we have had 131 thousands undergraduate and postgraduate students studying abroad, almost half of them are girls despite the fact that many of the professions they are studying for are unlicensed for women in Saudi, such as practicing law. I hope that by the time they finish and come home that obstacle will be removed and the nation can take full advantage of their investment.

Beyond our borders we have received all kinds of solidarity that I hope Saudi authorities do not interpret as a challenge but as encouragement. Among many things I’d like to mention two:

I’m particularly proud of being the recipient of the Havel Prize which I received in Oslo earlier this year. And was move by the work of many artists who showed solidarity with our movement such as the beautiful pop star MIA and her song “Bad Girls”.

Like I said before, in this young absolute monarchy of only 80 years there is very little room for average citizens to voice their concerns or gain a platform. There are no representatives of the people with executive power and a push for change has traditionally either been imposed from the top down or pushed for through tribal and religious establishments that women are completely excluded from.

Social media and speeches like the one I’m giving right now are the main tools that are available to Saudi women who want to absolve the gender apartheid and build a better and stronger Saudi Arabia where every citizen, regardless of sex, is treated with dignity and respect.

The Right to Dignity campaign and I work towards a Saudi where an adult woman won’t have to need her son’s permission to travel, where women will not need the escort of their guardian abuser to leave the safe house they escaped him to, a Saudi where women can easily obtain a means of supporting themselves, a Saudi where it is unquestionable that a girl has a right to her childhood. All we want is a Saudi Arabia that respects the humanity of women.

I have been told before ( it’s not the right time, if you love your country you must wait)..

I would like to answer them:

I’m proud to be a Saudi women and because I love my country I will not wait. Women rights is not a special interest or a privilege. Women rights or lack of them affects the whole society! Societies that keep women in the back seat, will always be on the wrong side of history.