Posted in Articles،English Content

Living Two Lives


Every time I leave the country, as I stand before the passport control officer in his usual military attire, I hold my breath on two accounts. My first fear is that a travel ban – an oft-received punishment by people like me, human rights advocates – will see me sent directly back home again.

My second is that my father, my assigned male guardian according to Saudi law, decides to revoke the travel permission he granted me. I can envision my father doing this either out of fear for my own safety or else as a response to the ongoing pressure he receives from people around him or from our al Sharif tribe. It’s strange the way that other countries punish activism with exile, yet in Saudi it’s the other way around: those who protest the system are doomed with internal exile! There is a well-known saying timidly mumbled by Saudis amongst themselves:

“The best place in Saudi is the airport through which I leave the country”.

The moment the passport control officer stamps my passport, an indescribable feeling rushes through my veins. The cage door is open; I’m a free bird once again. But how can one’s own country be a punishment in and of itself?

I could list tens of reasons, but personally I find that the agony of living in duplicity tops them all. The saying I quoted above reveals a lot about the forced duplicitous nature of the Saudi people’s existence: adhering to the the abnormally extreme societal and religious restraints imposed on them on the one hand, and living a normal life – or the life they want to live – on the other.

What follows is a list of just a few examples of duplicity in modern-day Saudi Arabia:

1- Although cinemas are banned in Saudi by law/fatwa, there are more than 170 cinemas in Saudi Arabia. All of them are located in residential compounds that Saudis cannot enter. Now add to that the huge Mega and Virgin stores that sell movies on DVDs, not to mention the fact that most prominent satellite Arab channels are owned and run by Saudi money.

2- Although alcohol is also banned in Saudi, it’s not difficult to find local alcohol dealers who will deliver whatever your heart desires to the privacy of your own home.

3- There are more than 10 million non-Saudis living in Saudi. Everyone knows that they come from different religions (Christianity, Hinduism, etc.) but when it comes to official numbers, Saudi authorities insist that the Saudi Arabia’s population is 100% Muslim.

4- Saudi law bans women from traveling without a Mahram (a male relative that woman cannot marry). But a woman can travel without a Mahram as long as if her “guardian in charge” gives his written permission! Similarly, when it comes to the issue of women driving, fatwas ban women from being alone with a non-mahram even if he is her cousin or brother-in-law. Yet, it is entirely expected that she will use a non-mahram driver.

As a Saudi woman, I am forced to live double the duplicity just to survive. When I got a job offer from Saudi Aramco back in 2002, my family had to guard the fact that their daughter worked in a mixed environment and that I lived alone 850 miles away from the “surveillance” of any male guardian.

Saudi Aramco was the first company in the Kingdom to have men and women work together in the same office space. According to the previous Saudi labor Law, a mixed work environment was prohibited. The new labor law that was passed in 2005 (3 years after I joined Aramco) annulled that particular regulation. It also annulled the rule that required women to have a male guardian’s permission in order to work; nevertheless, most employers in Saudi still require it. I remember the first thing a friend said to me when she found out that I worked in a mixed environment: “You will never get married”. The irony: I married a Saudi co-worker, whom I later divorced.

Hypocrisy is also very useful when dealing with impractical and sometimes absurd laws. Take the Ministry of Higher Education as an example. There are now over 27,500 female students participating in the King Abdullah international scholarship program. My elder sister, a doctor, was one of them, until they stopped her scholarship benefits two years ago. The reason? She was not accompanied by a male family member while studying abroad. Ministry of Higher Education official statistics show that half of applicants to the program are females, but the number who are actually eligible is reduced dramatically by their inability or unwillingness to comply with this bizarre requirement, which authorities argue is based on Islamic fatwa. Those who have basic knowledge of Sharia (Islamic law) know that only one of the four Sunna scholars considers a Mahram (companion) to be a mandatory requirement for a female traveling abroad. So a male companion while residing in another country is not required!

Female students come up with creative workarounds to be able to study abroad. Some marry (on paper) just for the sake of having a male companion, and when they travel abroad, each of the marital partners leads their own life until the program is finished. Other female students take the male companion for the first few weeks to finish the paperwork and show a face at the Cultural Attaché office.

When I was detained in 2011 and sent to jail for being a woman driving a car, I met Hana, a 26-year-old woman who was waiting for more than a year for her male guardian to bail her out. Even when a Saudi woman prisoner has served her sentence, she cannot be released until her appointed male guardian has bailed her out. I brought Hana’s issue to the jail warden’s attention. He told me he was aware of her problem, a common one when the girl’s family is ashamed by her and refuse to accept her back, and that he was in the process of finding her a husband to bail her out! I couldn’t believe my ears!

Officials say that they are applying Sharia laws, while clerics say that they are protecting customs and traditions. At the same time, society enshrines customs and traditions, while laws codify them. It is all becoming a big mishmash where you have no clue who is responsible and who is to blame for the enforced living of a double life or for Saudi’s attempts to build an Islamic Utopia on behalf of the whole Muslim world, even when a large number of us are just pretending rather than genuinely believing in it. I once read a funny comment on this polemic situation: “Saudi authorities solve the world’s problems with money, and Saudi problems with fatwas”.

Hypocrisy in the Saudi system extends from officials to its religious establishment, with a knock-on effect in its society.. The infamous Saudi cleric Al Arifi, who happens to be the most followed Arab on Twitter, is the perfect embodiment of the religious establishment’s dilemma: it must strike a balance between preserving its grip on the Saudi society, which it does through rigid interpretation and intolerance to difference, such as the Shia’a, whilst simultaneously gaining acceptance from an international community that does not welcome displays of intolerance. Al Arifi is known for tweeting opinions of hate against the Shia’a in the Middle East, and encouraging Saudi youth to go for jihad in Syria against the infidel Alawi. Surprisingly, however, all those views were overturned on his last visit to London. The headlines about his visit went something like this: “Al Arifi calls Sunna and Shia’a to unite and renounce differences”!!

Living a double life creates so much pressure on those forced to do so., You get a sense of this when reading Saudi tweets, the only podium where we can voice our views. The tweets usually revolve around three things:

1- Harsh criticism of one another and extreme curiosity about others’ personal lives. People show off the superiority of their own faith by questioning the conduct of others..

2- Harsh attacks against Shia’a and anyone who is different. If you are different, then you are our enemy, even if your opinion is the only thing that is different about you.

3- Harsh attacks on anyone who dares to question clerics or challenge a status quo.

Surprisingly, Saudis who live abroad seldom tweet about such issues! Or if they do, at least not in such harsh way. Maybe because they are relieved from the daily pressure we face within Saudi that causes everyone to get on your nerves as a result of the slightest interaction.

I have always wondered how to end the agony of living two lives, following two standards, being two-faced… It has to start with the people in power; here I mean the government and the religious establishment, and I am witnessing some progress. The government uses religion to control people, but when religion tries to control the government, things don’t go so smoothly. When the religious establishment tried to stop women from being part of the Shura Council in September 2011, for example, the government completely ignored their demands.

It was a big debate in Saudi, probably the second biggest after the debate on women driving. The same religious establishment that is known for resisting almost every new thing that arrives in Saudi ends up making heavy use of that thing almost every time. TV, radio, women’s education, satellite dishes, internet, camera phones and social media, to name a few. The excuse is always that they are using it for a good cause. But the truth is that people obey at the start and boycott, then with time, you find everyone using what was initially declared haram.

I see more and more Saudis, especially the young ones, stand up for what they believe in, even if it earns them a great deal of criticism and attacks. I see them challenge the once-unchallengeable, mostly when they come back from abroad and start realising the comparisons. For me it’s a baby step, but this is how babies learn to walk! One day, when my daughter makes decisions about her major in school, whether or not to wear hijab, the husband she wishes to marry, the movie she wants to watch in the cinema, I will know she will not feel what I feel every time I leave Saudi. Because she will be as true to herself there as she is anywhere else in the world!

Published April 18, 2014
http://www.islamistgate.com/596

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Posted in Articles،English Content

When will Saudi women drive?


Every time I meet someone from outside Saudi Arabia, the conversation always ends in the same question: “How long do you think it will be before women in Saudi are allowed to drive?”

I wish I had a simple answer for this issue, which should, by basic human rights, be much less complex than it is. But before I address this, I will answer another common question: “Why don’t – or rather can’t – women drive in Saudi Arabia?”

In fact, the Saudi government has never issued a royal decree stipulating the ban, nor even imposed a system. (In Saudi Arabia, there are systems rather than laws: from a religious point of view, laws are considered to be in violation of Shari’ah, because they come from a human perspective).

The ban is merely based on the Ministry of Interior, which was issued in 1990 in response to the first women’s movement demanding the right to drive. The decree, which forbids women to drive on Saudi Arabian territory, did not specify a punishment.

It was reasserted by the Ministry on October 25, 2013, one day before the date on which Saudi women had chosen to launch a third driving campaign which is still held on a monthly basis.

As represented in statements given by the new Interior Minister Mohamed bin Naif and his father who was the former Interior Minister, Naif bin Abdulaziz, both insist that the Interior Ministry is an executive and not a legislative body, that it is not responsible for the ban.

If we examine the Basic System of Governance, which corresponds to something like a constitution in the rest of the world, Article 8 states “governance in Saudi Arabia is to be conducted on the basis of justice, equality and consultation in accordance with Shari’ah”. And if we look at the Saudi system relating to traffic, we do not find any provision or stipulation preventing women from obtaining a driving licence.

These are the only two sources we have to consider in connection with this issue. The statement released by the Ministry of Interior in 1990 is rendered null and void by the fact that it was not based on the governing system.

But on the occasions that I and many others have tried to obtain a driver’s licence from the traffic department, we have been surprised, upon entering our identification numbers into the relevant system, to find an error message appearing on the screen: “The ID number entered belongs to a woman, it is not possible for a woman to obtain a driving licence”.

When I raised the issue with the administrative court in November 2011, wishing to make a case against the General Directorate of Traffic, and pointing out the lack of legal ban preventing a licence being issued to me, my case was referred to a special committee at the Ministry of Interior. In other words, to the very party I wished to prosecute.

When you hear the words “special committee” in Saudi Arabia, you know your case has been relegated to oblivion. And this has remained my fate until today.

We can conclude from all this that the Interior Minister is the executive body as well as being the issuer of the ban and the body that upholds it, which contradicts the statements made by both the Saudi Interior Ministers.

Now, a review of some of the reasons people give for the ban. Firstly, financial: influential families control the visa market for drivers. If they allowed women to drive, these families would lose huge financial returns from a market in which official figures indicate the existence of around a million drivers and which unofficial numbers suggest could contain as many as two million.

And secondly, a fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baz, issued concurrently with the Ministry of Interior’s 1990 decree and forbidding driving based on the Islamic principle of prohibiting that which might eventually lead to sin.

The justifications cited by the prohibition fatwa are nothing more than suppositions about what will happen to society if women are allowed to drive.

This has led to a situation in which denying women the right to drive, something which has no basis in the Muslim law, has taken precedence over prohibiting women to be alone with a non-Mahram male (which is prohibited in Shari’ah), as the woman inevitably must be chauffeured around.

In my opinion, the real reason is much simpler than all this. If a woman had asserted their right to drive since the day cars arrived in Saudi Arabia, it would by now be a routine matter and we would be dealing with none of the current clamour and uproar.

This is the reason that Bedouin women and women from the countryside drive comfortably outside of the city without being subject to hindrance or criticism. The banning of women from driving in the city is a result of the system of state that has been systemically imposed upon it; women in Saudi Arabia are considered minors under the law until the day that they die.

We will return now to the question that, in recent times, has become an ever more frequent topic of discussion: when will women in Saudi Arabia be able to drive? Many assume that the issue of allowing women to drive will be resolved with a royal decree, as happened with the appointment of 30 women in the Shura council in September 2011.

This decision, which was followed closely by many parties interested in the Saudi state of affairs, represented an attempt to improve the image of Saudi Arabia after a scandal involving an imprisoned woman driver garnered widespread attention.

But those who know anything about the distribution of power in Saudi Arabia know that there are several different competing parties within the royal family, each with its own ideologies and interests.

They also recognise that King Abdullah does not have the powers required to issue such a decree, and that the subject of women driving is entirely in the hands of the Interior Minister Mohammed bin Naif; the King has no authority when it comes to this department.

Will a positive decision be issued by the Ministry of Interior? That seems improbable. More than 24 years after the first attempt to abolish the women’s driving ban, there seems not to have been a single breakthrough; there are no driving schools for women, nor any female traffic police.

Saudi police are still intent on stopping any woman who dares to drive, booking her car and summoning her guardian-in-charge to sign a pledge not to allow her to do so.

The authorities, in effect, show no leniency towards women drivers, as we who were demanding the right to drive hoped they might have done. The authorities also worry that responding to demands to allow women to drive will damage the prestige of the state and open the door to other popular demands for social and perhaps political change.

When will women be able to drive? We must recognise that the Bedouin woman never ceased –since the horse and donkey were replaced with the car, or the side-dagger with a rifle – to use new inventions to ease her life and affairs. Whether in the farmlands or the desert of Saudi Arabia, not one of her fellow men dared to doubt her chastity, her morals or her religious belief.

Meanwhile, the woman of the city has willingly parted with her rights and allowed everyone to compromise them, or else to use them for political gain or as a red herring to distract people from more salient issues.

In my opinion, freedom is a personal decision, not a political one. When the Saudi woman realises this fact, she will get in her car and drive it as many times as it takes for it to become a common sight, forcing the authorities to regulate the phenomenon rather than prosecute it.

And when she learns that rights are seized rather than granted, she will recognise how to eliminate the male dominion that has been imposed on her and cast her as a minor her whole life.

http://www.islamistgate.com/566

Posted in Articles،English Content،منال الشريف

Has Hijab Become a Social Symbol?



Famed Saudi writer Manal Al-Sharif has a thoughtful look into hijab. She says that a recent survey shows that the Muslim headscarf is considered as a social rather than religious symbol.
A recent survey from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research conducted in seven Muslim-majority countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) found that most people prefer a woman to completely cover her hair, but not necessarily her face.

While public opinion in many of the surveyed countries expresses a clear preference for women to dress conservatively, many also state that women should be able to decide what to wear for themselves as long as they adhere to a conservative dress code.

Overall, most respondents agree that the most appropriate way for a woman to present herself in public is with her hair and ears completely covered by a white hijab.

This opinion is shared by 57% of survey respondents in Tunisia, 52% in Egypt, 46% in Turkey and 44% in Iraq. In Saudi Arabia, 74% say the burqaa or niqaab, which cover the woman’s face fully, are the most appropriate forms of public attire.

The figures above illustrate two important points. The first is that Muslim societies still consider the hijab a social symbol of conservative practice and chastity, regardless of the fact that its appearance, colour and way of being worn differs from one society to the next.

The second is that even in the most secular Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Tunisia, the hijab has retained its importance, indicating that it has become more of a societal imposition than a religious one.

This might represent a return to the true origins of the hijab in Muslim societies, where it was imposed on women by societal pressure and expectations. It is worth mentioning that in the absence of this important study, many outside the Muslim world believed that the hijab is imposed by political and religious authorities only, just as it is in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where are all women – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – are obligated to wear one.

In telling the story of how the hijab came to be imposed, the history books and the Prophet’s Biography describe how hypocrites in Medina harassed women in the street if they believed them to be among the women slaves.

The wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) complained about this, and the verse of the jalabib was revealed: “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their jalabib (loose-fitting garments) over their persons: that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested (Al-Ahzab 59).

Through their dress, it was now possible to differentiate the free women from the slave women when they walked in the streets. The biography books describe how Umar, the second Caliph in Islam, forbade the slave women if they copied the free women’s way of dressing.

As the judge and intellectual Mohamed Said Al Ashmawy explained in his book “The Truth about the Hijab and the Evidence of Hadith”, this reason for wearing jalabib – for distinguishing between slaves and free women – might be rendered obsolete by the non-existence of female slaves in the modern era.

According to the fundamental principles of Fikh (Islamic jurisprudence), the existence of the rule is intrinsically linked with the existence of the reason; if the rule exists, the reason must exist too.

Regarding the famous “verse of the hijab”, which is quoted by Quranic interpreters to justify the imposition of a religious veil, those who oppose this view point out that it was revealed with regard to the Mothers of the Believers (Wives of the Prophet) in particular, and that it does not refer to non-revealing clothes but rather to the non-revealing divide between the Prophet’s Wives and whoever talks to them.

The new generation of Muslim women is a questioning generation, influenced by science, technology and the Information Age. I recall the time a girlfriend from an American Muslim family asked me why women cover their faces in Saudi Arabia. I told her what I remembered from books and what we had been taught about it in the madrasa (religious school): that it is sinful (a3ura) for a woman to show her face. “What is a3ura?” she asked me. When I tried to translate the word literally, I became aware for the first time that in using this word, we compare a woman’s face to her genitals.

“Are you really telling me that God creates my face, places four of my five senses there, and then instructs me to conceal it because it compares with my genitals?” she said.

I didn’t have an answer at the time, but our discussion formed the beginning of a long search to find the origin of the hadith I had told her about. I found that no such hadith exists, and that it was merely a fabrication being used to subjugate woman to cover their faces, an imposition which is contrary to human nature.

Other justifications that we hear for the imposition of the hijab pertain to women’s allure to men and the fact that without the veil, she is exposing herself to the risk of harassment.

But despite wearing of the hijab being a widespread practice in Egypt, it has the highest rates of sexual harassment of all the Arab countries. And this raises questions about why we continue to punish the female victims and impose restrictions on them, instead of enacting a law which would deter the men from harassing in the first place.

But perhaps the biggest blow dealt to advocates of the hijab in the Muslim world came at the hands of a prominent religious institution in September 2013, when Al Azhar University awarded a doctorate with distinction to Sheikh Mustafa Mohammed Rashid for a thesis in which he argues that the hijab is not an Islamic requirement.

When the oldest institution and religious authority in the Islam world acknowledges that the veil is usually a social obligation, we can consider that a new precedent has been set.

As long as the hijab continues to be spread by political, social or religious forces, or women are held accountable for its appearance or colour; as long as laws are enacted that deny or impose its being worn, the hijab will remain a highly controversial topic.

It is a subject that is used to make condemning decisions about women, and that differentiates women from those around them in a world where differences and distinctions are being broken down on a daily basis.

Published on Islamist Gate February 9th, 2014

http://www.islamistgate.com/376

Posted in Articles،English Content،News،منال الشريف

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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NEWSWEEK: Riding Shotgun With The Woman Driving Change in Saudi Arabia


Riding Shotgun With The Woman Driving Change in Saudi Arabia

By  / November 07 2013 10:03 AM

 

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that there are three types of people in this world: “those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” Manal al-Sharif, a 34-year-old computer scientist, is in the process of moving something momentous – the Saudi Arabian cultural taboo of allowing the women to get behind a wheel.

But her activism is in the face of a repressed kingdom. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy and the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Sunni and tribal tradition define the rights of its 20 million women. “People are completely isolated in decision making,” she says.

And yet, al-Sharif’s protest movement is having more effect than just the future of women drivers. In the same way the frustrations and actions of Mohammed Bouazizi – the Tunisian fruit seller who launched the Jasmine Revolution that paved the way for the rest of the Arab Spring – some see al-Sharif as the catalyst for a much larger change.

“I call it the ‘Women’s Spring’ in Saudi,” she says. The al-Saud rulers, she says, are cracking down on dissidents out of fear that the waves from the Arab Spring will spread to the kingdom. But she remains undeterred.

And she is quickly becoming the face of change. Foreign Policy named her one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011, and her words and actions are spreading throughout the region.

“Manal is no doubt one of world’s best examples of people who can move others – even if laws, customs, habits, and powerful governments are opposing her noble attempt,” says Srdja Popovic from CANVAS, a Belgrade-based think tank that trains peaceful revolutionaries around the world.

Popovic – who 13 years ago helped overthrow the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic – knows political defiance. His other pupils included the Egyptian April 6 movement, as well as Syrian and Iranian activists. He calls al-Sharif, “one of my heroes.”

Women are not technically banned by Saudi law from driving; they are only prevented from obtaining Saudi driver’s licenses or using foreign licenses. Because of the ban, Saudi women are largely forced to rely on male relatives or chauffeurs for transportation. Women who try otherwise are usually stopped by police, who call their male guardian.

In 1990, a group of women protested the ban and were so severely punished – by travel bans, detention and slanderous sermons during Friday prayers – that no one tried to challenge the ban again for more than two decades. That is, until Manal al-Sharif decided to get behind a wheel.

Al-Sharif’s odyssey – from a young, divorced mother to prominent dissident, a word she had to look up in the dictionary – began in May 2011.

For four years she owned a car she was unable to drive, and she was fed up. She also realized there is no law in Saudi prohibiting women from driving – only constraints of culture and tradition.

A few days later, al-Sharif – in Jackie O sunglasses and a traditional black abaya – got behind the wheel of her Cadillac SUV. A friend in a flamboyant pink abaya filmed al-Sharif with her iPhone.

As she turned on her engine, al-Sharif remembers being “scared and excited.”

“I sat down and buckled up … Then I said, ‘Bismillah’ [in the name of God], and I drove,” she says. “My feeling was that you have a bird… this bird is in this cage his whole life… Then suddenly you open the door, and the bird hesitates: ‘Should I leave? Should I stay?’ ”

Al-Sharif pressed the gas pedal and flew “through the bars.”

The women drove through the streets of Khober, in the Eastern Province of the kingdom, for eight minutes. They filmed as they went. A few days later, the religious police detained al-Sharif for six hours, but the video had already received 600,000 hits on YouTube. As the news spread, some women applauded al-Sharif, but others were appalled.

“There are many who don’t think what I am doing is good,” she says. “They are jealous, or they don’t want to change the way they are treated in Saudi society – like queens, or like pearls. Their husbands do everything for them.”

Her short drive was a triumph, but it also started a cycle of harassment that continues today. One cleric said to her, “You have just opened the gates of hell on yourself.” Another day, she opened an email to find a grim message: “Your grave is waiting.”

But al-Sharif was not intimidated. She and other supporters organized a grassroots campaign: designing a logo, alerting local media, and calling for all women to get out and drive on June 17 and to make videos of the trip. The reaction was like a tidal wave.

“The opponents kept telling us, ‘There are many wolves in the streets,’ ” she says. “ ‘They would rape you, they would harass you, and they would kidnap you if you drive a car.’ ” Al-Sharif decided she would prove that she would be the one to drive – and not get raped.

She also posted a survey which asked: “Do you want to drive on June 17?” Of the women she polled, 84 percent answered yes. Another question was, “Do you know how to drive?” Only 11 percent answered yes. So she and her campaigners started a driving school using volunteers as teachers.

Empowered, al-Sharif took her cause one step further. She borrowed her brother Mohammed’s car and went for a drive, passing a police officer en route.

She went to jail for nine days for “incitement to public disorder,” and Mohammed – who told her to “go for it” – was detained by police. When al-Sharif emerged from prison, she found she was the poster child for the right for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

“I call myself an accidental activist,” she says. “I did not even know what the word means.” Part of the activism, she said, went much deeper than just getting women to drive.

She grew up in the 1980s and 1990s in Mecca, where the school curriculum dedicates nearly 40 percent to teaching religion. She says she was brainwashed to the moral code of Saudis.

“We were taught we lived in a perfect society. But we were also taught that if we followed rules we went to heaven, and if we did not we would have hellfire.”

Her religious education, based on honor and fear, started when she was young. In the seventh grade, without knowing why, she was suddenly forbidden to play with a favorite cousin. He was a boy. They did not meet again for 10 years. She says she mourned not only the lost friendship, but also the implications of separating the sexes.

“I was so upset! We were just playing! We were just kids!” she says. “I was learning that people are controlled by fear.”

On holiday in Egypt with her parents and her brother and sister (now a doctor), al-Sharif saw Egyptian women confidently driving, their heads uncovered, their hair flowing. “I just hung my head out the window and stared at them. I could not believe it.”

Academic life was her release. Her working-class parents – her father was a truck driver, her mother a housewife – encouraged all three of their children to study. Her mother preferred that the girls did their homework rather than traditional women’s work.

“Mom didn’t really ask us to do anything around the house,” she says. “It was more important for her that we studied.” When al-Sharif graduated with high marks, she went into computer science, eventually working for Aramco, a national oil and natural gas company.

But there she saw more injustice: “women being bypassed for promotions and appraisals – just because they are women.”

She had her “own awakening” as a Muslim and as a woman watching the disturbing images of the Twin Towers burning on September 11. People were hurling themselves out of windows in an attempt to save their lives. Al-Sharif watched, horrified. “These men [who did that] were not heroes, but killers” she says.

Sent for a year by Aramco to Boston, she had another eye-opener. She rented her own apartment, drove her own car, and no longer needed her father’s signature to travel. Returning to Saudi was a painful lesson.

“I had to go to my father to sign papers for me to do anything,” she says. “I could not pick up my son from school.” Having lived and experienced freedom outside the kingdom, she realized she could not go back to living with injustice.

She devoted herself to more activist causes inside Saudi, but in May 2012 Aramco finally managed to push her out of her job.

“There are two faces to this country,” she says. “It’s a hypocritical society. Educated men travel outside Saudi, and they see women driving, women with uncovered heads. They think it’s fine. Then they get back here, and their views are different.”

On October 26, al-Sharif and other activists urged all Saudi women to stand up and take their destiny in their own hands, and drive. The result was that hundreds of women got out in the streets and drove, and 16,000 signed a petition that demands the government lift the ban or, at minimum, give a “valid and legal justification” for the prohibition.

It was a personal triumph. And last year, al-Sharif remarried a Brazilian man, Raphael, whom she met at Aramco. Even that – a private decision – was not easy. She had to get permission from the Ministry of Interior to marry a foreigner – and was refused. She married outside Saudi, but her ex-husband won’t let her son travel outside the kingdom. So to see him, she commutes between Saudi and Dubai, where she found a new job.

Still, her travel is monitored, and she is on a surveillance list. On October 26, the movement’s webpage was hacked.

But it has not stopped her, nor is she afraid. She is currently writing an autobiography, travelling to activist conferences around the world and speaking out. Loudly. She says that like other Arab revolutions, once people realize they are being denied their freedoms, they cannot turn their backs.

It’s like that first time behind the wheel of her Cadillac. “I have this feeling that you just need to jump,” she says. “To trust yourself. “

 

http://www.newsweek.com/riding-shotgun-woman-driving-change-saudi-arabia-2770

Posted in Articles،English Content،منال الشريف

Congratulation for your marriage to another man…. My Love


During a session of “girl’s talk”, where Eve enjoys backbiting Adam, this story was mentioned:

“He called to find her crying. He asked; what is wrong?

She replied; I had a marriage proposal and I should go now to meet his mother.

He said; Wipe your tears my love, to not destroy your beauty in front of my mother.”

The local version

“He called to find her crying. He asked; what is wrong?

She replied; I had a marriage proposal and I should go now to meet his mother.

He said; Wipe your tears my love to go to meet his mother. He might be better than me and love you more than me. Congratulation for marriage in advance!”

Many comments from anti-Eastern men followed this story. Comments like: “men hold a girl in suspense for years with dreams and illusions of getting married, then when he wants to get married, she is the furthest option of his future wife”. Another: “even if he married her, he will keep considering this a favour of him or he will humiliate her because she fell in love before marriage, and some cases he might doubt her or marry again.”

These were my friends’ comments however; I had a point of view that Eve might not agree with:

It is easier to blame others for our misfortunes. Eastern women play the role of the victim like professional inferiors. Men control her whether he is a father or a husband, or even sometimes a brother or a son. Society plays a role in creating this idea when it convinces her that she is less than a man. She cannot take the control of her own affairs, although she is responsible for managing her home affairs. She is not close to the perfection that men have reached despite all their shortcomings. Male will remain superior to female. The worst is when those brand-new habits that underestimate the women turn to be written laws using doubtful hadiths to back them up. I call them brand new habits because they appeared during my Mother’s generation but not in my Grandmother’s generation. – God rest her soul – who raised her children after the death of my grandfather, planted her land and managed her house, her sheep and all her own affairs by herself.

A Mother is blameworthy when she puts in her son’s mind indirectly that he is better than his sister is, allowing for him what is forbidden for his sister to do and ignoring his mistakes while punishing her daughter for committing the same mistake. A girl is blameworthy in case she derives confidence from the number of her suitors. when she sets her sights on the man she loves even if he did not express an intention to marry her, making him all her life while she is only a part of his life which he can replace with another whenever he wants. She is at his disposal, and feels happy for his privilege even if he causes her sadness and forgives his faults, while she does not expect the same.  She has to be an angel, not a normal woman to win his love, his heart and the wedding ring, which she may not ever see.

The wife also is blameworthy when she waives her right of being a full-fledged partner of a man in his life, sharing the same responsibility of housework and raising children. Does the wife know that legitimately she should not serve her husband, or even take his permissions in her personal affairs, yet share his opinion only? Does she know that guardianship means managing her affairs, serving her and not a matter of owner and slave as we see today? Even the divorcee is blameworthy when she gathers all her things in a bag with her broken heart and leaves her marital house believing that this protects her dignity? Ignorant or ignoring that it is her legal right and the right of her children to her house? How did things overturn? Then she asks why does a man humiliate her? However, she humiliated herself first when either she waived her rights out of ignorance or out of love. Eve is the first to be blamed for diminishing her rights, even if it was her moral right to be respected! Yet, the man is one who wrote the rules in the woman’s life and she followed without any questioning!

FACT:

The dream of every man is to be the first in her life; however, the dream of every woman is to be the last in his life.

Posted in English Content،Interviews،منال الشريف،women2drive

Glamour: The Story That’s Inspired The World


In Saudi Arabia, women are banned from driving. Yes, in 2013. Yes, because they’re women. Angry? YES. In defiance, equality campaigner Manal al-Sharif posted a YouTube video of her behind the wheel. Despite death threats, she won’t be deterred. Here is one of the most inspirational women you’ll ever meet.

“The moment I first thought, ‘Oh God, what have I got myself into?’ was on my second day in jail, in May 2011 – my ‘crime’ was driving my car and encouraging other women to do the same by posting a clip of it on YouTube. I’d been allowed to call my family, who told me my five-year-old son – Abdullah, or Aboody for short – had been hospitalised. I was in a filthy, overcrowded cell. I was terrified, but I was also very, very angry.

Three days earlier I’d posted the ‘Saudi Girl Driving’ video online – 800,000 people saw it in just 24 hours. If you ask anyone across the world about Saudi Arabia, the one thing they usually know is that women are not allowed to drive. My protest – as part of my activism for equal-rights campaign group Right2Dignity – came about after I visited the doctor’s one night and couldn’t get a lift home. It was 9pm, and as I walked to find a taxi, I was shouted at by men driving past. One followed me for 15 minutes and only drove off after I threw a rock. I cried in anger, thinking, ‘This cannot be happening; I am 32, I have an international driving licence, a US licence, and a car I can’t drive.’

The next day, a colleague told me there’s no actual law banning women driving, it’s just a societal norm. I couldn’t believe it, so, a few days later, I went out and drove my car in protest, while my friend, Wajiha, filmed it.

It was one of those crazy moments where you just do something without thinking about the consequences. We drove for an hour and it was so much fun. It was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m driving and no one is stopping me!’ I wanted to see people’s reactions to witnessing a woman driving. I wanted to provoke men. I’d stop at traffic lights and make eye contact with them. I drove to a busy supermarket car park and got out. People were staring at me in disbelief.

Back home, I uploaded the clip to YouTube. My campaign group uses social media to effect change – I realised technology could help the cause, as Saudis are huge YouTube viewers and Tweeters. My experience ignited the idea for Right2Drive – we called for Saudi women with international driving licences to go out and drive on June 17, a month later.

Testing the waters, a few days later I got back into the driver’s seat, this time with my brother, to see if the authorities would act if poked again. They did. We were stopped and held at the police station for six hours, and I was made to sign a pledge to say I wouldn’t do it again – not because it was against the law, but because it was against social convention and I’d incited others.

We finally got home at midnight. Aboody was asleep upstairs and the house was full of my activist friends, eating pizza, working on laptops and watching TV. They were so excited – I was all over the news. We saw it as a huge victory; we’d established that no official law existed to stop women driving. However, at 2am, nine people knocked on the door to take us away again. I was frightened, but a work official called and assured me it was nothing to worry about and I should go. I didn’t even look into Aboody’s room before I left – I didn’t want to wake him and I was sure I’d see him in a few hours. It turns out they lied to me and I was thrown into jail, without trial.

I was released after nine days, but I had no idea getting into my car that day would offend so many people. People threatened to rape and kill me. They called my office screaming that I’d opened the doors of hell. My picture was on the front page of the newspapers. I was the most attacked woman in Saudi Arabia.

It’s caused me a lot of pain and I have had moments of feeling defeated. I was put under so much pressure at work – they didn’t like my campaigning – that in April 2012 I resigned. That meant I lost my home, too, as it was rented through the company. It would be impossible for me to get another job in Saudi Arabia, so I moved to Dubai with my new husband, Rafael, and set up my own information-security business.

I couldn’t get Aboody out of the country – my ex-husband would not give me my son, and the law in Saudi Arabia is always on the side of men. Aboody lives with his grandmother, a one-hour flight from me, and I go and see him every weekend. It’s very sad and I could just sit and cry and regret what’s happened to me, but I want to write a happy ending to this story for my son.

There are so many injustices that Right2Dignity is trying to change. Driving is just part of it. A woman who was caught driving recently said she was inspired by me, and I thought, ‘Yes!’ We Saudi women need to be courageous and speak up – first, with these small things, and then take action with the bigger things: it’s the ripple effect. We’re now calling for a law to criminalise domestic violence.

Years ago in Britain, women fought hard to live the way you do today, and that’s what we want in Saudi Arabia. Never take your freedoms for granted. I can’t change my reality right now, but I can affect what happens for women who come after me.”

More about Manal’s incredible story is in the June issue of GLAMOUR, out now.

 http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/news/features/2013/05/manal-al-sharif-saudi-arabia-story