The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Third National Dialogue Forum.... 

....has just ended. "Dialogue" may be putting it rather strongly. "Forum" might convey the impression of shared values. However it was definitely the Third.

Health warning: Women with high blood pressure should not read further. Nor men, for that matter.

Dialogue Forum Ends Amid Heated Debate

JEDDAH, 15 June 2004 — The Third National Dialogue Forum wrapped up three days of session yesterday in Madinah amid heated arguments about previously taboo topics.

Some 70 participants, including 35 women, from all parts of the Kingdom took part in the discussion on women’s issues.

(Note that, like all conferences in Saudi Arabia, the men are in one room, the women in another. They "communicate" via microphone and loudspeaker. "Just like in my house", I hear some of you say.)

Here are some excerpts, just to show the state of play here on Womens' rights

One delegate, writer Yahya Al-Amir, brandished a copy of a textbook on Islamic culture for second-year secondary school students saying the text spoke of women as weak creatures who need a guardian to lead them to the right path, because if allowed to act without guidance they may end up being corrupted and corrupting others. He asked (said?)the curriculum could allow children to view women as a potential source for corruption.

In yesterday’s session on women and employment, Dr. Muhammad Al-Arifi, who earlier nearly brought about the collapse of the forum, again fell foul of another participant, this time Dr. Walid Fitaihi.

Fitaihi, a physician and writer, presented a paper titled “Women Are the Partners of Men” — a saying by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) — which was met with applause from the women.

Al-Arifi objected to Fitaihi’s suggestions that women should be allowed to work as nurses, air hostesses and in other jobs and said Fitaihi was basing his arguments on the opinions of scholars from “outside the region.”

Dr. Suhaila Hammad, a member of the National Human Rights Association, criticized the lack of balance in the representation as the participants seemed to have been selected with a slant toward the conservative, even though she believes moderates are in the majority in the Kingdom at large.

“The most important thing is to correct the misconceptions about women’s rights in Islam, which are confused with traditions and customs,” she said.

The degrading opinion of women, the misinterpretation of Qur’an verses and Hadiths and the domination of tradition is what is preventing women from the rights Islam gave her. She finds that the most important changes should be in the curriculum, the judicial system and in the labor laws.

Many presentations at the forum were good, she said, but some were vague and impractical. For example, to insist on preventing women from driving and at the same time warn them not to ride with strangers, as one presenter did, was to leave women with no options, especially when there is no dependable public transport.

and in another article...

Remarks on Women’s Rights Cause Uproar

MADINAH, 15 June 2004 — High drama at the National Dialogue Forum was triggered by Dr. Muhammad Al-Arifi, of the Teachers’ College in Riyadh, who said women had gained more rights than they were entitled to.

Some female teachers at schools and universities were neither intellectually fit for the job nor decently dressed, he said, while others who studied abroad were attempting to spread “Western feminist ideas” among their students.

He also complained that some women were allowed back to work after they broke the law during the 1991 Gulf War, sources said.

“Saudi women have earned more than their rights, as evident by the fact that the women who led a demonstration driving cars in Riyadh 12 years ago were given their jobs back afterward, and this is something that did not happen to men.”

These women were “a source of anxiety because their ideas are implanted in the minds of students,” Arifi added.

One woman was so overwhelmed with the comments she broke into tears.

I know exactly how she felt.

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