Rebellious Saudi woman. My life has began once i arrived to Canada in 2008, from that moment i realized that there is a lot of things i need to catch up with ....
Welcome to my Blog. If anything I have to say offends you, I can assure you that I am not sorry.
Nude blogger raises questions about Egypt’s secular culture
In developed and western counties, nudity can be used as an artistic form of protest in order to deliver a strong message about unjust conditions; in this context, it may or may not spark controversy.
This is in contrast to eastern cultures and Muslim countries, where such protesting is seen as a disrespectful, contemptuous act toward others, even though the intended message from such action may be in defence of human rights.
Recently, Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, a 20-year-old university student from Cairo, sparked discussion by posting naked pictures of herself on her blog, A Rebel’s Diary, highlighting the fact that women are oppressed and denied their rights as human beings in Egypt due to the influence of religion, as well as laws that are restrictive towards women.
Elmahdy is known as a fan of Sayed Al-Qemany, who is a self-described secular figure, a prominent Egyptian attacked by Muslim brotherhood and other fundamentalist groups because of his progressive writing on Islam and Islamic history. He’s been used as a source on the Elmahdy issue, not only in Egypt but also in most Islamic countries.
To many liberal and secular individuals, Al-Qemany’s response to the issue was disappointing and unjustified.
He took a defensive tack, and tried to personalize the issue instead of giving realistic justifications for Elmahdy’s act.
Al-Qemany said that he didn’t know about the issue until he was contacted to comment on it, adding that he himself is not responsible for what his readers do.
“Probably this woman suffers from pressure and mental problems and should be treated and get helped, not attacked,” he said.
He went on to express that Elmahdy doesn’t represent the values he believes in, or else he and his family would also go naked.
In other words, he said nothing productive.
People may mix things up, but freedom of expression shouldn’t be confused with liberalism.
However, there’s no question that the Elmahdy issue will be utilized for political purposes. In fact, it’s understandable why this issue has been raised at this particular juncture - the first stage of the parliamentary election took place on Nov. 28.
Some fundamental groups may use this issue to attack liberalism and secularism and deliver a message to the public state that this is what will happen if you choose liberal and secular parties over Islamic parties.
Was Elmahdy’s message not delivered in the proper way, or at the right time?
Whatever the answer, here’s hoping that Egypt will have the cognizance to learn from the cautionary examples of neighbouring countries, where religion dominates every part of political life.
My latest article published at the Uniter (University of Winnipeg Student's news paper)
November 2nd 2011
I know my rights
Saudi women can now vote and run for office, but there’s more to the royal decision than meets the eye
by Fatemah Al Helal (Volunteer)
by Ayame Ulrich
Women in Saudi Arabia seem like they are always waiting for a royal decision to have their rights given to them. In 1960, women were granted the right for education by King Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz, despite opposition from the public.
After 50 years of living with this decision, the results are clear.
According to the World Bank report, there are more female students in higher education in Saudi Arabia than in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia or West Bank-Gaza. Women in this country realize that they don’t want to wait another 50 years to have another basic right.
As an example of this, a group of women last June defied a nationwide ban that keeps them from driving.
This step seems to be a very small one toward reaching equality between men and women, but at least it starts things moving.
Unfortunately, the authority’s response to this event was to detain the women who drove their cars and to continue to ban women from driving.
Surprisingly, on Sept. 25, the king of Saudi Arabia announced that women will be allowed for the first time to join the unelected parliament. Women will now be able to vote and run for office starting at the next municipal councils in 2015.
This is the most significant step forward in Saudi women’s rights since the girls’ education decision in 1960.
A lot of women have been dreaming of this for long time, and many were surprised by the decision. As a Saudi woman, I was also surprised, but at the same time I couldn’t be wholly optimistic about it.
I garnered conflicting messages from the announcement.
Women in Saudi Arabia realize that they don’t want to wait another 50 years to have another basic right
The first one, which is positive, was that King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz believed that this action would lead to women’s empowerment and political reform.
The second message was that this was just a way to bend to the international community in order to avoid the embarrassment of being so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to women’s rights.
Looking at it in this context, the women’s involvement in the municipal election and parliament wouldn’t be positive, but a sham. There are examples of this throughout the Middle East.
Afghanistan parliament, for example, has women elected, but this doesn’t make Afghanistan a democratic country or a better place for women.
As a matter of fact, some of those women are warlord’s allies, and most of the time they work against women’s well-being because there is no way to oppose the warlords’ patriarchal government.
Even if there were a women who decided to talk honestly or fight for women’s equality, they would end up dismissed from the parliament.
Malalai Joya was a good example of a woman who was dismissed for publicly denouncing the presence of what she considered to be warlords and war criminals in the Afghanistan parliament.
In light of the possibilities at hand, the most important thing is for women in Saudi Arabia to benefit from this powerful right and keep pushing to gain more rights, so that we can consistently enhance women’s status there.
Maybe hundreds or even thousands times I had my lunch at school restaurants, and million times I got my coffee from my favorite coffee shop or even shopping. There is no one single time that I pay close attention about the amount of money I spend. The value of that money was missing or not seen as it is in a real life. Maybe money is the money; it is just the way we see it according to where we stand in this life.
People on top of the economical pyramid might see that five-dollars for Grande cappuccino not that much while person from working class would see it as a half an hour working.
Like many people in this world my life go though ups and downs, after that day when I lose my financial support that granted to me to continue my post graduate studies, many things has changed.
I couldn't enjoy that grilled chicken burger with the fries and the chocolate milk today, it cost me 10 bucks, I ate it thought.
What makes us think the way we do? is it because we choose to see things in this way, or it is depending on where we located in the pyramid??
I'm not talking about food only. It’s about everything, food, clothes, religion, and the way we see each other’s.
Am afraid that there is nothing true and nothing wrong, it is more about our inner awareness and personal perspective of everything around us.
Political Islam, or whatever you want to call it, has failed on both sides: Shiite and Sunni countries. Some people may argue that it’s the fundamentalists from each side who need to be blamed for this dark and scary image of Islam, not the religion itself! Until we find modern intellectual minds that interpret and apply the pure Islam on the Earth, political Islam will continue to fail. We need unbiased individuals and groups to help reform and modernize the religion and also to take the non-Muslim into account because we all live together on one planet.
I want to ask those who want to apply the real Islam in our daily and political life, as they claim: which Islam do you want to apply? Sunni Islam or Shiite Islam or Wahhabi Islam?
On the first day we go to school, in the first religion class, we have been told that it is un-Islamic to separate religion from state and as Muslims we should be ready to give our lives to protect this religion. Otherwise we are considered “kafir”, which means infidels in Arabic, who accept western values.
We need to find a middle ground to stand on for all people, even non-believers, and move on with our lives to the future. What happens in Saudi Arabia or Iran, for example, affects other people on the other side of the world and vice versa. We are no more isolated from others: the world is changing and it is better to embrace this change for good.
There are many who are affected negatively by political Islam and when it comes to women the situation becomes worse. Women’s fight to gain their basic rights in some countries has become a dark long night with a dawn that never comes.
In a country such as Saudi Arabia, the abuse of women’s rights is not simply the unfortunate result of religious authority. It is the consequence of a state policy that gives women fewer rights than men and that means women face discrimination all their lives. That allows men to practice their power on women without being accused by law. On the other hand, nobody will never know. It is always there; something has been cooked and in case of Saudi women the “Arab spring” might raise the heat under their pot a little bit. The women in this area are growing and deciding to take the hard path and are starting to express their opinions freely. Saudi women now don’t want to waste their education and skills or get married to someone to satisfy their materialistic desires. According to “Arab News”, in a study conducted recently (which more than 200 women participated in between the ages of 17 to 35), 87% would choose financial independence over depending on their husbands. Only 13% admitted they would marry a rich husband.
“I cannot see myself staying at home and doing nothing but cooking and cleaning. I want my husband to see more in me than just a ‘baby-making machine,’” said 34-year-old Zahra Abunaser
Oppressed people cannot stay oppressed forever. Even though women in this area are not asking for many rights, such as political rights, banning or limiting other religious issues like polygamy or temporary marriages for men, women’s rights may obtained years from now.
The women’s movement in Saudi Arabia is still taking baby steps; it could take years to walk independently. Academic achievement is not necessarily helping to push the women’s rights movement. The confrontation of women’s groups who are asking for more rights within Islam with the small number of secular and atheist women (due to lack of freedom of religion and beliefs in this country) make it hard for all women to get together and benefit from unification. There are women who still find that being a feminist is not Islamic, there are some who want few rights—such as stopping the ban on women’s driving and removing the guardianship law on women at the age of 18. It is not surprising that we find women who are still against the freedom of choosing clothes and not wearing the veil, and who support polygamous marriage, or even temporary marriages. There are women who would fight hard to keep things as they are. There is a woman called Salwa al-Mutairi, a well-known television hostess and thankfully an unsuccessful candidate for the Kuwaiti Parliament, who claims that women being sex slaves is an Islamic practice to legitimize men’s sexual desires outside of marriage and to avoid adultery!
Another example of a woman that refuses the fight to acquire more rights for women is Rawdah Al-Yousif, a Saudi Arabian who describes herself as activist. This woman attacked Manal Al-Sharif, the woman who started the campaign “Women2Drive” and drove her car in June 2011 to make a statement that the driving ban on women should be stopped in Saudi Arabia. Al-Yousif was also a campaign supervisor and organizer, with a number of other Saudi women, on a campaign supporting the Kingdom’s male guardianship system. The campaign was entitled “My Guardian Knows The Best For Me”.
Another reason pushing the women’s movement back in Saudi Arabia is the conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Every time when women from Shiite minority demand that women of Saudi Arabia deserve more rights, no matter what their background is, they are always facing the accusation of disloyalty to their country and the hidden agenda, mostly the Iranian Shiite agenda, claimed to be destroying other Saudi women’s morals. All these reasons keep women uniting and fighting to gain their rights as human beings.
Twenty years ago we weren’t standing where we are now. It is maybe the “Arab Spring” or the “social media” or whatever helps the young ones to start thinking and to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together. For sure, the picture will be clear for everyone eventually and the Saudi youth will start to understand that we are all Saudi Arabian and this is what most matters to build this country.
Las few days were my first time i was practicing my freedom of expression on public. I was participating in rally in Winnipeg in solidarity with the Canadian Boat to Gaza (The Tahrir).
The Greek authorities are preventing the Canadian boat from leaving its port in Greece to Gaza. The Tahrir is one of seven boats and cargo ships that make up the "Freedom Flotilla", an international initiative whose goal is to challenge the illegal blockade of Gaza, and bringing humanitarian aid to the civilians population of Gaza.
The same action was taken by different groups allover Canada in places such as, Ottawa, Vancouver and other provinces. I hope they can help in removing the illegal blockade of Gaza and allowing safe docking of Canadian ship at a port in Gaza.
Women face barriers in every country in the world. These barriers may be greater or lesser depending on the government and society in each country. The patriarchal system in Saudi Arabia has made it hard for women to acquire equal rights with men. While men have few political rights, women still have almost none. Moreover, this situation is nurtured by the religious authority; women were told that they were created by God to stay at home and do the housework, with limited options for work outside their houses.
It seems that women in Saud Arabia are fed up with the ignorance and neglect of the authority and society, and their failure to grant them more rights. Thus they have decided to change their tactics and take action instead of waiting. In recent days a Saudi woman, Manal Al Sharif, has been calling for a mass drive by woman on June 17th, 2011, in an effort to change the society’s opinion of women driving. She released a video on YouTube describing how woman can participate in the movement to lift the ban on women driving. Al Sharif started to drive her car using an international driving license, but was detained at Alkhobar police station for the second time at about 2am a few days ago, without any clear accusation.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving. The government has stated that it is a matter of time, and that it is completely up to the people of Saudi Arabia to decide when they are ready for this to change – political views have nothing to do with it. This vague statement seems to be indirect approval for the current policy to avoid international embarrassment and to keep the matter from the rest of the world.
The women of Saudi Arabia have caught the revolution virus from nearby countries, and the detention of one woman won’t stop them or make them afraid. A driving demonstration was held in the 1990s, and a few years later the issue came to the surface again when human rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider drove her car in the private campus of the oil company ARAMCO to raise awareness of the issue. Women’s fight for the right of mobility is a key part of their struggle for wider rights in the future – they are starting to believe that rights are something they must fight for.
The issue of women driving doesn’t require great discussion – it is a non-negotiable right. The government of Saudi Arabia needs to take action and change the law now. If the government are looking for a chance to move toward reform in the country, now is the time to begin.
This is an article i would like to share with you written by a friend of me called Cato Alexis from United States, featuring Wajiha Al huwaider for this year's International Women's Day.
Wajeha al-Huwaider is a Saudi activist, journalist and co-founder of The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia. She is a native of the city of Hufuf in eastern Saudi Arabia. She holds an MA in Reading Management from George Washington University. She currently works as an education analyst for Aramco.
Wajeha is another Lioness of the East I admire. This is a feisty woman who likes to do even the littlest things to get under the skin of the Saudi government and religious clerics. She wrote various articles advocating for reform and for the rights of Saudi women as a freelance journalist when in 2003, the Saudi Interior Ministry banned her from writing in the Saudi press. She thumbed her nose at them and continues to publish her works on reformist Arabic websites and has gained international recognition. She is a divorced mother of 2 teenaged boys who she has sent to the U.S. for boarding school so as in her own words: “I send them there because I do not want them to grow up to be typical Saudi men.” (She doesn’t mince words!).
She is adamant in her demands for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world in which women are still not allowed to drive. She stated once: “Saudi women are weak, no matter how high their status, even the ‘pampered’ ones among them, because they have no law to protect them from attack by anyone. The oppression of women and the effacement of their selfhood is a flaw affecting most homes in Saudi Arabia.” In 2008, on International Women’s Day she gained worldwide media attention when she posted a YouTube video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia. She petitioned King Abdullah to allow women in the country to drive freely.
Wajeha has performed other acts of defiance and activism as well. In 2006, on the first anniversary of King Abdullah’s accession to the throne, she staged a public protest. She stood on the King Fahad Causeway, the 16-mile causeway that links Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Thousands of people (men!) drive this thoroughfare everyday. Wajeha carried a sign stating “Give Women Their Rights.” marching up and down the public road. She was arrested within half an hour and detained for hours, and the police demanded that she sign a pledge to stop all of her activism in exchange for her release. She was also banned from traveling back to her residence in Bahrain when her passport was confiscated.
The one thing that Wajeha protests against the most is the law of “guardianship” found with Saudi Arabia. A woman, no matter her status, requires a “mehram” “male guardian” to do anything in her life in the eyes of the Saudi government. The divorced mother of two is fiercely against a system she says treats women as 2nd class citizens: "If I wanted to get married, I would have to get the permission of my son," she says.
As a form of protest, Wajeha often tries to cross King Fahad Causeway, where she had staged her one-woman protest. She is turned away by border police every time, because she refuses to carry documentation that state her “male guardian” allows her to travel outside of the country: “I am not a dangerous person, so why do they turn me away? Because I refuse to present a document signed by my male "guardian," giving his permission for me to travel. And why do I do that? I possess such a document, but it is humiliating to have to produce it, and I am tired of being humiliated solely because I am a woman.”
The editor of the reform-minded Aafaq compared Al-Huwaidar to Rosa Parks. And Wajeha has been given several honors and awards for advocacy for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries hold a special place in my heart. I spent several months traveling to some of the Gulf countries and in Egypt and Jordan. I had experiences, good and bad, of what it was like traveling not just as an American, but as a woman traveling on her own. I would do it all over again if I could, with much more zeal and less recklessness. As hard as I tried, months before my travel plans took place, I could not enter Saudi Arabia. I became a woman on a mission and made dozens of phone calls, networked with various people, until I finally spoke over the phone with the delegate in the Saudi Embassy in D.C. who gave out the visas. I was told that I needed “connections” within Saudi Arabia, or a Saudi male citizen to sponsor me. They didn’t care “how I got the visa” just as long as they saw in writing that a Saudi male had sponsored me, and it had to be a relative or a job offer from a company. I was told I could easily get a “transit visa” to Saudi Arabia which is a 3-day visa as you’re traveling through one country to another; the catch: I still needed a “male guardian”.
I went on to stay in several Gulf countries that border Saudi Arabia. I remember being amazed one day in Oman; I was packed in a beat up old Toyota truck with 7 Omani girls as we traveled through the mountains to visit friends of the Omani family I was staying with at the time. No men, no “guardians” present at all, except one of the little brothers who was barely 4 years old and just along for the ride. (Oh, I fell madly in love with that kid!!!). The older sister of the group plowed through waterways and up hills shifting gears with ease, making fun of me later for not knowing how to drive stick.
I started thinking about how a few hundred miles away was a country in which women could not freely drive without fear of reprisal from the government or the menacing Muttawa, religious police. One of the girls was studying nursing in a nearby city, her choice, her decision. In the country next door, an ambitious Saudi girl would need permission to even attend college and even though Saudi women make up almost 60% of college graduates, the employment rate for females is alarmingly high. I have become friends with Saudis from school and from my time traveling and I absolutely love and adore their hospitality, generosity and kindness. One of my closest friends from Riyadh is insistent that I continue to try to visit regardless. His own father tried to find a way to get a visa for me to visit, but not having the “wasta” (Arabic: “connections”) he wasn’t ever able to obtain one. Why? I needed a male relative to take me, or else I needed to have a male sponsor of a business that hired me.
In 1991, several dozen Saudi women staged a protest by driving around Riyadh in vehicles before they were arrested and faced continued harassment upon release. It was the start of the first Gulf War and Saudi Arabia allowed American troops in the country and American servicewomen were driving up and down Saudi roads in military vehicles freely; this irked the Saudi women to stage a protest, demanding their right to do the same.
Ultimately in the end, it’s not just the right to drive that Saudi women face, it’s the right to be treated as an equal citizen by the Saudi government and monarchy. The Saudi women have an uphill battle, but the determination and tenacity of women like Wajeha al-Huwaider is an inspiring story to be told.
I posted several links to blogs that belong to Saudi women and foreign women, working, going to school or married to Saudis, and what their daily lives are like. There are also plenty of Saudi men and male bloggers who also advocate for women’s rights and reform in Saudi Arabia as well, which I have posted.
One of the blogs is by an older American woman, married to a Saudi for over 30 years, and just a few years ago moved to Saudi Arabia with her husband and young son. She blogs about her life and trying to adjust to the culture. Her unabashed honesty and insightful posts are wonderful to read.
Another is by a former American diplomat who married a Saudi diplomat. Recently widowed, she blogs about Saudi Arabia and its politics and culture. It contains very insightful articles by a very intelligent woman.
Another is by a young Saudi woman who currently studies in Canada and writes about her views of life in Saudi Arabia and life in a western country. Beautiful and thoughtful writing from a beautiful woman.
To only see Saudi Arabia as “oil and sand”, “Extremism” and/or “Osama bin Laden” is to ignore the complexity of its people and its enriched culture and history.
I still wish to visit Saudi Arabia one day to meet Wajeha al-Huwaider and many of the other brave Saudi women who perform large and small acts of courage to defy the systematic discrimination of females, minorities, and foreigners within Saudi Arabia. I hope to see the beacon of light grow brighter and more women like Wajeha al-Huwaider continue to fight until they are treated as equals. Hence, why Wajeha al-Huwaider is a favorite of mine!
I received an email from a friend I have never met in my life this afternoon - am completely thankful to the power of internet that helps to bring people together- she is a young woman from Kuwait I knew her for almost three years, excitedly she was telling me that she just graduated from university and ready to move on towards the next level of her life. Recently she was visiting Saudi Arabia specifically Mecca. She was delightful describing how this brings peace and calmness to her soul and how Saudi Arabian woman she met there were caring and kind to her. How lucky you are: she said because you are from Saudi Arabia, it is such a nice country. This really touching something inside me and makes the waterfall works began and this is the reason why I decided to share this story with you. I was shattered between two major feelings, the natural love of my home and the struggle I go through just because of my gender. Saudi women deserve a better life and opportunities more than what they have. I won’t start to list the achievements on women’s rights level Saudi women have done because there are not so many. I’m writing today for the Saudi woman from different ages and backgrounds who are still suffering and struggling in the name of religion, traditions or anything used to push them back to the shadow zone for not to be seen by others. In 2011 while people are celebrating the International Women’s Day (IWD) every year on 8th of March, Saudi Arabian woman are still begging their rights from those who put themselves in the place of God. It is overwhelming for me and for all the human rights activists in this area that the majority of women accept this situation as a normal way of living and waiting desperately for their rights fall from the sky or delivered as a gift, they are isolated from the life that they should be part of and participated in. For the woman of Saudi Arabia who chooses to be free they should fight very hard and not to afraid or compromise to acquire normal and basic rights. History has shown us many examples of women who paid their life price for their freedom or take the risk swimming against the stream flaw. One example is, Malalai Joya, “the bravest woman in Afghanistan” according to BBC news. This woman did what thousands or millions of men are afraid to do. She simply raises her voice to unmask those who destroyed Afghanistan in the name of Islam. That voice was against warlords!
Malalai Joya risks her life for the sake of Afghan people, men and women. Even with four assassination attempts and suspend from the Parliament because of her persistent criticism against warlords she never compromise. Thousands of people show their solidarity and support for her and that what encouraged her to say the truth all the time and stand by her people’s side. Malalai Joya has inspired me and many others as well and taught me one important lesson that “Rights are something fought for and not given by others”
I have been asked to write a piece of opinion commenting on the event in Egypt by the University of Manitoba newspaper (The Manitoban). I would like to share it with you here, this is the article:
The people say their final word
Social media leads revolutionary change
The power of the Tunisian people to force Zine El Abidine Ben Ali out of the country more than two weeks ago inspired the Egyptians to start their own revolution on Jan. 25. These events gives many Arab youth the hope for change. Last week has been a tumultuous one not only for Egyptians but also for all those who live in Arab nations. I believe it will change the face of the Middle East.
I have felt mixed emotions of happiness, fear and suspense over what will happen. Despite the fact that the mobile and Internet services were shut down in Egypt by the Mubarak regime, people are continuing their uprising against the dictator. The protesters might have come from different backgrounds and generations, but they are all united to scream out, “Go away Mubarak!” Al-Jazeera and CNN International are doing a great job in their coverage of the event, but most of my attention was to what people say on Twitter and Facebook. Thank God for electronic media! It has played an important role in organizing people, especially youth to challenge the regime.
The revolution came alive with the support of bloggers and young Internet users all over the world. Since the first day of the events in Egypt, I was glued to my laptop and my smartphone for minute-by-minute updates from my trusted sources of information —Facebook and Twitter. Bloggers from around the world showed their support for the Egyptians by writing and offering technical support, such as new proxies for blocked websites before the Internet shutdown. Bloggers are the new generation of journalists doing their part in spreading information. This is magic! That’s why most of the governments in the third world are so afraid of the Internet and are attempting to limit people’s access to it. It is not a surprise to see the mainstream media receive their information through these bloggers materials, be it videos, photos or telephone calls from the demonstrations. The media can even contact the bloggers and have a live view of the situation. As an example, Wael Abbas, one of the Egyptian bloggers, was called by Aljazeera TV to give his opinion.
The events beginning in Tunisia and continuing in Egypt have shown the effect of social media in the third world. It is important for those who support democracy in those countries and for the human rights activists all around the world to demand that Arab governments review regulations and laws that prevent the flow of free information.
Finally, governments in the Middle East should learn the lesson and start to work with their people on the reforms they have promised. If they do not, the consequences will harsh when the people say their final word.
Fatema Kareem is inspired by the power of social media to bring change to the Arab world.