Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia’ Category


April 1, 2014


A recent article by Patrick Cockburn in The Independent argues that the “War on Terror” has been a failure. He points out that jihadists have seized control of large areas of Iraq and Syria and that the Taliban have been making a resurgence in Afghanistan. He argues that the main reason for this is that the United States and Britain are allied with the two governments that do the most to spread jihadism: those of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. You can’t win a struggle when you’re allied with your enemies. (Those on the left who advocate the “red-brown” strategy should think about this.)

Wadjda, Haifaa al-Mansour’s 2012 film set in Saudi Arabia, gives us a rare glimpse inside a country that is often misunderstood in the West. (9/11 Truthers will be surprised to learn that people in Saudi Arabia do not live in caves.)

This film tells the story of Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), a young girl who dreams of owning a bicycle. Girls riding bicycles is frowned upon in religiously conservative Saudi Arabia. Wadjda’ mother (Reem Abdullah) works as a teacher. Because women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, she has to be driven to work by a hired driver who treats her rudely. Wadjda’s father (Sultan Al Assaf) is loving and kind, but his parents pressure him into taking a second wife, because Wadjda’s mother can no longer bear children.

At Wadjda’s school, we see the headmistress (Ahd Kamel) scold some girls for laughing in the schoolyard – apparently because men can hear them. This film portrays the bleakness of religious fundamentalism. Wadjda subtly resists, yet she herself succumbs to it at times; for example, she betrays a couple of her fellow students to the headmistress at one point. This film ends on a heart-warmingly optimistic note, however.

Wadjda features strong performances and is beautifully filmed. This is an all the more remarkable achievement considering that this film was made under less than ideal conditions. (It is the first feature film made in Saudi Arabia, as well as the first film directed by a woman there.) Wadjda is about as close to a perfect film as I have ever seen.

The Guardian Advocates Saudi Exceptionalism

November 4, 2013


The Guardian is my favorite newspaper. It often has articles that I find informative and thought-provoking. Every now and then, however, the paper makes an editorial decision that I find inexplicable. On Saturday, November 2, they ran an article by a Saudi Arabian man named Ahmed Abdel-Raheem titled Word to the west: many Saudi women oppose lifting the driving ban. In it he writes:

    If you read any western coverage of the recent protest of Saudi Arabia’s female driving ban, you probably thought, “finally, the kingdom is waking up”. But the problem is, that’s not what many Saudis think, including Saudi women.

Raheem goes on to claim that he conducted an informal survey of female college students in Saudi Arabia. He says:

    To my surprise, 134 (out of 170) respondents said female driving is not a necessity and that it opens the door for sexual harassment and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving. Some also fear that it gives husbands a chance to betray and agree with the assertion that it creates sedition in society.

That’s an interesting word there: sedition. Not long ago Saudi Arabia helped crush an uprising in neighboring Bahrain. I’d be curious to learn about the social backgrounds of these women, particularly if any of them come from families connected with the government. Raheem quotes one respondent as saying:

    Honestly, I don’t like women to drive. This will create sedition … I agree that there are already different kinds of sedition we see every day, but the right place for a woman is her house; this will really save her from what is happening in the outside world.

Sedition seems to be a big concern among some people. Raheem then writes:

    This stresses that the continuous attempts from the west to impose its values elsewhere are pointless. Western feminism is not only unlikely to take hold in countries like Saudi Arabia, it is not what many women in the kingdom want. Consider what Amany Abdulfadl, member of the Egyptian Centre for Monitoring Women’s Priorities, said in a 2007 piece in Al-Ahram Weekly: the west’s ”definition of equality cannot work in our Arab world because neither will our women find jungles to cut wood in, nor our men ever have breasts to feed babies.’

You see, the best way to make a point is with a non-sequitur.

    People in Saudi Arabia have their own moral views and needs. What works in other societies may not fit in Saudi (sic), and the reverse. In short, instead of launching campaigns to change the driving laws in the kingdom, the west should first ask Saudi women if they really want this or not, and western countries should accept the result, even if it’s not to their liking.

The next day – Sunday, November 3 – The Guardian ran an aricle titled Saudi Arabia ‘arrests Kuwaiti woman for driving diabetic father to hospital’. It tells us:

    The English-language Kuwait Times said that the woman had been driving in an area just over the border, with her father in the passenger seat, when she was stopped by police. The woman, who said that her diabetic father could not drive and needed to be taken to hospital for treatment, was being held in custody pending an investigation, the paper said, citing police.

Yet another reason why women shouldn’t be allowed to drive is that they might be tempted to drive their diabetic fathers to the emergency room instead of letting them die. This might work in other countries, but it might not fit in Saudi Arabia. (And, who knows, it could lead to sedition.)

According to his bio, Raheem currently lives in Poland, where the women are allowed to drive, and the men do not have breasts. (I swear, this is true.)