Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Saudi Arabia Wastes Biggest Untapped Natural Resource: WOMEN


O ne step forward. Two steps back. This could aptly describe Saudi Arabia's attempt at growing and changing with the modern world. Technologically speaking, the Kingdom voraciously gulps down the latest in electronics and communications. Astronomical oil revenues outfit Saudis with the latest in gas guzzling luxury SUVs, haute couture fashions from Paris, and the gaudiest furniture and jewelry imaginable. But amidst the glaring opulence, one fact still remains evident: Saudi Arabia continues to waste, oppress, and ignore possibly its most valuable natural resource - its women. Saudi women are either kept hidden at home or hidden in public beneath loose fitting black cloth, cloaking them from head to toe. They are invisible. They are unapproachable. They are inaccessible. And this is exactly the way the men here want it to be.


Anything Saudi women do must be done with the consent of their Mahrams, or male guardians, usually their fathers or husbands. This includes traveling, education, and working, or something as simple as going to the mall. It seems that the more women try to push a little for their rights, the more religious clerics push back with even tougher stands and rulings. Now mind you, these are the same religious leaders who also recently upheld as perfectly permissible the marriages of eight and ten year old girls to old men. These leaders are deathly afraid of Western influences on social behaviors of Saudis, so much so that they try right and left to control many aspects of people's lives that most Westerners would consider outrageously intrusive and ridiculous. It always comes down to the religion - they say the religion says that women must be controlled and behave in these ways, but more than the religion, it is cultural, really - strictly Saudi culture.

In previous posts I've written about the extreme censorship here, the strict segregation of the sexes, the restrictions on women working and not being allowed to drive, and so on. Well, now the latest controversy to hit the newsstands is one forbidding Saudi women to appear on television or in print. This effectively prohibits women from, among other things, reporting the news or hosting shows - not that they ever DID here in Saudi Arabia anyway! The reasoning behind this is that the images of a woman on TV or in a magazine are too tempting for rational and god-fearing men to be expected to control themselves. No matter how conservatively a woman might be dressed and even with her hair covered, just the sight of a woman on TV is deemed obscene by the religious clerics. Claiming that they are merely trying to preserve morality in Saudi Arabia, this pretense is a lame excuse for oppressing women even further in this male-dominated society.

What I don't get is why nothing is ever said about all the violence on TV – and there is plenty! Isn't violence immoral? So in essence, the morality police say that a man shouldn’t see a Saudi woman's face on TV because he might get aroused, but it's perfectly okay to see all the blood and gore and guts and heads blown off he wants - and that’s just fine and dandy. But don't a lot of men actually get turned on by violence? All of these religious rulings seem to be directed at punishing and oppressing women. It’s as if men can do whatever they want here but the women always have to pay the price.

This latest absurd ruling comes on the heels of the appointment of the first ever woman official to the Ministry of Education. Wow - such progress! But, the woman’s photo was run in the newspaper without her permission, and she voiced her own objections about it. Of course in her position with this government agency, she will only be allowed to attend meetings and work with the rest of her “colleagues” by proxy via closed circuit television! It really makes me wonder how effective she will really be cut off like this from the rest of the good old boys.

Another recent inane fatwa (religious ruling) attacks women for riding in vehicles with their drivers, saying that it is highly immoral since intimate conversations in the car can easily lead to immoral conduct. Since women in this country are not allowed behind the wheel in the first place, hiring drivers is the only way for women to get around. Women are forced into this situation but now are being criticized for doing so. In addition, paying for drivers causes additional expenses for the family. But some wise old religious leaders are now saying that Saudi women - are you ready? - should just stay home; there is no need for them to go out! Can you imagine?

There are many Saudi women who get advanced college degrees but then never enter the workforce. I read somewhere that there was something like five million foreign workers here in Saudi Arabia. Many of them are drivers. Many work in restaurants – you won’t find any women working there either. Many of them work in shops in the malls as salesclerks, positions that women are forbidden from holding. So women are again forced into uncomfortable situations where they must purchase their undergarments - from strange men. Does this make any sense at all in this prim and proper society?

I can only imagine the vast improvements in customer service and the efficiency of day to day business operations that would be possible if women were allowed to take their rightful places alongside men in the workforce here.

When will Saudi Arabia wake up and realize that it is suppressing and wasting one of its largest natural resources: ITS WOMEN. Women are the most under-used and under-productive members of this society. Will Saudi men ever stop treating and looking at Saudi women purely as sex objects? Why can’t Saudi men be expected to exercise self-control around women and behave in a civilized manner as men in most other countries of the world do? When will Saudi women be allowed to work, or to manage their own affairs, to drive, or to have their voices heard?

It all makes me wonder: What am I doing here?

UPDATE: Arab News just published an interesting but sad article on the status of women "business owners" here in KSA.

Want more? Please read American Bedu's recent post about how women's gyms in Saudi Arabia are the next item on the KSA's hit list - yet another ban aimed at women.

For a more optimistic view of feminism in Muslim countries, please read Sand Gets in My Eyes's post.

156 comments:

  1. I agree for the most part with your post--however my husband works for and with Saudi women in a professional capacity (his immediate boss is a Saudi female). The women do not veil and the atmosphere is quite relaxed. I also know many Saudi men who treat women in a "civilized" manner. Saying that I went for a walk (covered up, of course)down a major street in Jeddah near my compound just this morning and was honked at, hooted at, followed by the police for two blocks and generally uncomfortable in a way I never was in the UAE!
    Saudi has a long, long way to go.

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  2. i do appreciate your views but its not suppressing the women. women are far more protected in jeddah as you compare to other countries.in islam, the breadearner is the male,,its his his duty to earn the livelihood for the family.women are supposed to look after their children & the household. all the rulings protect & preserve the women & their modesty in the best way.

    even not evrey saudi man cosiders a woman not more than a sex object.
    its just that u dont have much knowledge about islam & the traditions.

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    1. If it happened. It HAPPENED

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  3. @Omar--with all due respect--you have got to be kidding! The only real protection for women is equal rights and legal protection under the law! How else is a woman to be protected from her so-called "protectors"? What you call "protection" I call repression and slavery.

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  4. It really is a different world. I know I couldn't go and live like that.

    I think Omar is mistaken in saying that you do not understand Islam and the traditions, I am no expert but I do know that other Islamic countries do not treat their women the way Saudi does.

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  5. @Susie--"It all makes me wonder: What am I doing here?"
    I've only been here a week and I'm already thinking that!!!

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  6. If women will not be allowed in print, do you think that will extend to your blog?

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  7. Susie, I'm really enjoying reading your blog. Thanks for sharing your views on life in such an interesting and different place.

    You pointed out something very interesting in that without women working in society, they are therefore being served by men in all facets of life from shopping to drivers to buying their under garments, which in itself flies in the face of what the society dictates.

    The question I have though is is it merely Saudi culture that dictates this or the religion itself? My understanding from my muslim husband, for example, is that Islam supports education of women. So why is it not the case in Saudi?

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  8. That must be so frustrating for you and so many other women in that culture. It's ridiculous how fickle the religious law seems, with no real foundations in Islam.

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  9. I have to hand it to you, you are brave to be living there. I find the idea of only visiting Saudi, somewhat scary. I don't like the feeling of being somewhere that I don't have full rights.

    I always thought that it was strange how they would prevent women from driving so they needed male drivers who were not family members. It seems now that they have realized this as well but instead of doing the logical thing - allowing women to drive themselves - they now want to restrict them even more.

    I just wonder, in that scenario, what happens if a woman needs to go to a hospital or somewhere else urgently and her husband isn't around to drive her? what then?

    I would absolutely refuse to buy underwear / lingerie from a man. In my opinion they have no business working in those stores and I find it so bizarre that religious fanatics would find that OK. Shouldn't they worry about the men being turned on by the mere idea / sight of the lingerie they are handling all day and then selling to strange women? Sounds like the perfect occupation for a sexual predator or person with a weird sexual fetish.

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  10. Hi Sirius - Unless your hubby works in the medical field, I am surprised to hear that he works in Saudi Arabia with women! Medical and some educational environments would be the exceptions here. I didn't mean to say that ALL Saudi men don't treat women in a civilized way - I've been with one for over 30 years!

    Hi Omar - We are all entitled to our own opinions and in my view, women are extremely under-utilized and seen as sex objects here. I understand that they are fulfilling a part of the society by taking care of the home and raising the children. But from what I have seen, many of them languish around while their maids, cooks and nannies do all of the home duties, including raising the kids. I have been in Saudi homes where there is very little contact between the mother and her children. The maids are called to do the smallest task for the child. This is not parenting to me.
    KSA is far from typical in the way Muslim men treat women. And after being here for a year & a half, I feel I know enough about Islam and the traditions to express my views about what I see going on here - and that is that women are being wasted - and oppressed.
    Thanks for your comment.

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  11. Hi Sirius - Thanks. I say "Ditto!"

    Hi Gennasus - You are right - there are many other Islamic countries where women are not treated the way they are in KSA.

    Hi Sirius - I've never said that out loud until now, but I've been thinking it for a while!

    Hi Michaelle - As long as I don't publish photos of Saudi women's faces, I should be ok!

    Hi Renai - No where in Islam does it say that women cannot or should not work. In fact, before the oil boom here, the society was far more advanced socially. With the influx of so many foreign workers at that time, the reins were pulled in very tightly to prevent Western influence from permeating Saudi society. Islam does support education for women, however it is in the hands of the men. Many Saudi Islamic scholars think women should be kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and uneducated. Saudi Arabia has its own set of interpretations of Islam - claiming it's Islam, but to me it is cultural. The line between religion and culture here has been blurred beyond comprehension.

    Hi RiotWife - Absolutely. You are totally right!

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  12. Hi DesertMonsoon - Thanks so much for your comment. The driving issue and the male lingerie salesclerks have absolutely no basis in Islam, but they always try to explain it away by saying that it is the religion. P.S. - I will never buy my underwear here and there is actually a boycott going on here now. A law was passed 2 yrs ago to change the operations of the lingerie business, but nothing has changed!

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  13. DesertMonsoon - I forgot to try to answer your question about if a woman needs to go to the hospital. I honestly don't know, but the mutawwa would likely turn the situation into something nasty and the woman would be arrested and lashed - her driver too. If they sentenced a 75 yr old widow to jailtime and 40 lashes for having two 25 y/o men in her home who brought her bread, anything is possible.

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  14. Wow, what a post! I can't believe their solution to the potential intimate talk between a woman and her driver is to make the ladies stay home!!!!! :-O Why do the men get all the interaction in life? Why do the women have to stay corralled in the house like they are mere cattle who can't go beyond the gated pasture?

    God forbid they taste a bit of freedom and *gasp* actually want to be treated as human beings.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  15. @ Omar,


    Yes men SHOULD ideally take care of and protect women, but this is not an ideal world and there are many men who don't do that. My "muslim" husband didn't do that for me and my children. I am glad I didn't live in a place with backward rules like that when he started abusing me and then eventually abandoned us. What would have become of me if I had been living under such rules that you think are so great? Here, in the UAE, I am able to take care of myself and my children without any man. Why should I have to sit around and wait for a useless man to take care of me when I can do a much better job myself?

    What happens to a woman whose husband dies and she has no other male to look after her? What happens to a woman who has a bad father or husband or brother? With laws like these those women have no recourse. Even if such women are a minority, they still deserve to have the option to provide themselves with a good life if there is no man who can do it for her. And for that fact, why is it up to the man to determine what is a good life for his sister, wife, or mother?! I am just as intelligent as my brothers, if not more so, and much much more intelligent than my husband.

    From what I know, women are not more protected under such a system which does not give them the right to decide or do anything for themselves. For example if a woman gets raped in Saudi, the issue will be shifted to her and why she was alone and in the position to be raped in the first place and not on the fact that any man who does such a thing is a dangerous sexual predator. Whereas, in a country like the UAE where they are not condemned merely for going somewhere alone or having a conversation with a strange man, they have a shot at justice.

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  16. Susie,
    Yes, my husband does work in the medical field (apparently one of his coworkers guessed who I was from my postings--so my "cover is blown"--you had dinner with her not long ago I believe!) Some things are happening here that scarily seem very extreme--like closing women's gyms and making them stay home--is the kingdom going in the wrong direction? Makes me sure want to be registered at the US Embassy.

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  17. @desertmonsoon

    Living in KSA sure makes me miss Abu Dhabi!!!

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  18. it really makes me appreciate being a woman in America!

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  19. I know why you are there Susie but you might want to reconsider what message this is sending to your son. He will grow up and marry and he might give you grand daughter. Do you want this life for her?

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  20. The Saudi culture is based on tribal values that come from very old technology (no cars, trains or anything other than animal locomotion). In a sense everything outside of the family compound was regarded as possibly hostile. Unfortunately Saudi culture hasn't adapted to the modern world.

    With modern technology housework doesn't take all day. There are new tasks, in the past Arab children were rarely educated outside of the village. In the West parents often drive their cars to schools to pick up their children. Why shouldn't Saudi women do that? It is a household chore like any other. Why shouldn't they get in the car and go shopping? Keeping women as walking tents is crazy.

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  21. i try to refrain from commenting on the "WOMAN" situation in your part of the world but it is so very disturbing to me and oh so wrong on so very many levels. i so dislike how people INTERPRET things to suit THEIR needs and life styles against another. it isn't right and it surprises me that there has not been a backlash from the WOMEN.

    are your plans to remain there indefinitely or will you eventually return to the U.S. ?

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  22. An absolutely riveting post. Incisive, intelligent and haunting. It is a salutary lesson to all us western woman who have the freedom to be educated and who can pursue whatever goals we have for ourselves and our children. I wonder that your sense of yourself doesn't begins to dissolve living as you do in that environment? Thank you very much for being brave enough to post these illuminating observations.

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  23. Linda D.

    The woman in the picture at the top of the story has absolutely beautiful eyes. They should probably have her cover her eyes so no man is tempted to have immoral thoughts.

    It's obscence I tell you.

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  24. Scary! Besides the erasure of the constant mixing of genders in my life as I have many male friends, I couldn't even begin to imagine how my life would be different if I was living in Saudi Arabia. Off the top of my head, I would be taking something else in school, as my dad did not approve at first what I'm taking right now (education), figuring I should be trying to get a job with my undergraduate ecology degree (he turned his opinion around when he saw the "plentiful" job opportunities in that field).

    Reading this post, I got thinking that the mutawwa's heads would probably explode if they saw what I do on a volunteer basis once a week - I get partnered up with a random male in the service and we escort people to wherever they want to go in the campus area or 3 blocks from any train station if they don't feel safe at night...oh the horror! :)

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  25. I popped over here from Yoli's blog. I have a deep admiration for you. For moving to a foreign land for the sake of your family and for speaking out for women! Go girl!

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  26. Hi Susie,
    What a riveting post and very scary. I don't understand why the women don't openly express their dislikes about the way things are,yet I understand that all cultures and religious factions have many differences. Everyone has a right to live and to be able to make choices. Stay safe Susie.
    Jessie

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  27. This isn't about religion it's about control! I love to have these arguments with Saudi men when they come to the US because they can never win with me! LOL

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  28. Susie, a friend just sent me an article from 1955 Good House keeping on being a good wife. I had to share it with you:

    Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have be thinking about him and are concerned about his needs.

    Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.

    Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

    Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

    Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Run a dustcloth over the tables.

    During the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

    Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.

    Be happy to see him.
    Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.

    Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.

    Don't greet him with complaints and problems.

    Don't complain if he's late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.

    Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie him down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.

    Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.

    Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

    A good wife always knows her place.

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  29. Susie, what are you doing there? I know your husband, son and his family. But what about you and yours?

    "Women should not go out of the house." What is this world coming to? Are we not all equal? This religous/cultural issue so sucks! I'd probably be in jail because I'd open my BIG mouth.

    Yet I suppose a majority of the women have been raised this way and don't want to or understand how to rebel.

    I love that you can share these stories with us, and do it so well. Yet I am concerned for your safety.

    That first image says it all.

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  30. It is sad how they are twisting the religion to control everything for women. You are very right that it is causing the country to loose a valuable resource. Actually, that it what my dad used to say about the various cultures all across the world with similar restrictions. He would say that they are cutting down 50% of their potential producers and didn't understand how they expected to stay competitive on a global scale by doing that?

    Recently as women in 1st world countries are starting to blast through the glass ceiling, many studies have been conducted that show women as better managers than their male counterparts. Other studies have confirmed that the diversity in the workforce makes for better products and services. I feel badly for cultures who don't realize what they are cheating themselves out of.

    I do appreciate you writing about it. You have a very good view point to talk about these sorts of issues.

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  31. I have seen that article from the 50's too. It's sooooo cheesy! After a day of looking after a bunch of screaming kids with poopy daipers and snotty noses, barfing all over the place, I say order Domino's!!! If you want a fire put in one of those old VHS fire place tapes LOL ahahahahah As for asking me to take his shoes off after the day I've had with the poopy kids, if he dares to ask me that he'll probably get a frying pan slammed against his head! Don't question him Hahahaha! Men are like big kids you have to question them and keep them inline. They shouldn't even be allowed out. If he's late he can just eat his Domino's cold or microwave a Hungary Man tv dinner! As for clearing away all the clutter, who has the time for that after all the barf and poop! Kick it to the side or under the couch! If he complains about all of this tie him up to the porch with the dog for the night and throw him an old blanket! Thats my opinion of that article and men!!!

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  32. It wasn't that long ago that we too, were suppressed in our own country, the United States. Remember when women couldn't vote, couldn't attend universities, couldn't work in certain jobs, couldn't fight for their country. Remember when women were expected to cook, clean and have babies, whether they wanted them or not. Things changed in our country because women were willing to fight for what they wanted, regardless of the consequences. Is it any different for Saudi Arabia?

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  33. I found your blog recently (after reading about it on Perez Hilton.) I have been riveted by your experiences and enjoy your writing.

    Do you have any concerns that your blog could be shut down because of your views? Does that happen?

    How does your son feel about the role of women in SA? Has your son expressed any desire to go back to the US now, or for college?

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  34. This is so sad. KSA has indeed a long way to go. Sometimes it feels nothing has changed. All efforts were fruitless, the people from Jahiliya are still living in the times of Jahiliya.

    When you cage women, they breed evil because they remain stupid and act stupid.

    Very sad and shocking.

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  35. Hi Susie,

    This is yet another of the inconsistencies that does not make sense to me. There are two arguments usually presented in favour of such restrictions, the first is religious and the second is cultural.

    In the case of religious arguments, they have no base in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) first wife was a successful businesswoman and women were never restricted from working in public life in any way.

    In the case of the cultural 'we-are-only-doing-this-to-protect-you' argument, I would like to ask those men who defend this kind of thinking the following questions:

    1. How is it safer for me to get in a taxi with a driver who is a stranger when I have to go somewhere in the city, rather than to drive myself?

    2. When my husband travels out of the city or out of the country, then how am I supposed to go about my daily needs, eg shopping for groceries? What am I to do if my children are sick and need to see the doctor?

    3. In the past, my husband has come down with a flu and high fever. Is it safer for him to drive himself to the hospital or for me to drive for him?

    4. I have seen teenage boys and even grown men driving recklessly. Is it safer for them to drive or for me to drive myself when I have a record of over 15 years' driving experience internationally without a single accident?

    5. Even if there was a safety issue and a mahram issue, then why are not women allowed to drive if their husbands/brothers/fathers are sitting in the car with them?

    6. How is it more respectful for me to buy undergarments or makeup from men as opposed to from women?

    These are just a few of the many questions I would like to hear answers to.

    Apologies for the long post Susie, but you've hit a raw nerve !!

    Keep up the great writing :)

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  36. Interesting. I read your post about women today just after reading a post in another of my favorite blogs. Its a short a sweet post by someone who is thinking the same as you in a different part of the world. http://gadtramp.com/content/view/309/1/

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  37. Hello Susie,


    As a saudi I can tell you that Saudi arabia has changed alot in the past 20 years. True there are alot of wierd and backward rules here but it has gotten better.

    As for the extra-conservative religious clerics and their wierd rulings they have been saying what they say for years and people tend to ignore them.

    I'm still hopeful for the future for if saudi's dont wake up and the oil bubble bursts, this will be a society unable to hold itself up.

    As for why you are here:

    Who knows why anyone is anywhere? but think about it this way, if you weren't here you wouldn't be puting out such a great blog.

    Another reason, is for your son Adam, in your early posts you mentioned that you wanted him to learn more about his fathers culture. Think of it as a rich experience for him for now that he knows the good and bad of both worlds he can better choose the best combination. But of course he will need youre guidance.

    I can't start to imagine how life can be suffocating here for you but all I can say is try looking at the cup half-full and appreciate the good things in life instead of dwelling on the bad.

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  38. Hi Susanne - Thanks! I love what you said. When I heard that the religious scholars were saying that women just needed to stay home instead of being in khulwa with an unrelated man driving them around, I felt I just had to speak out. Enough is enough. Stop the madness!

    Hi DesertMonsoon - Thank you for speaking out and sharing your story. Women need to be given their rights and your situation is a perfect example why.

    Hi Sirius - KSA does seem headed in the wrong direction in many areas where women are concerned and it is cause for alarm. Yes, by all means, all US citizens should be registered with the Embassy. And please tell CH hello!

    Hi Deb - Definitely - we take many things for granted that we should appreciate.

    Hi Yoli - My son has no intentions at this time of staying in KSA beyond high school, if he makes it that long. So the scenario of him having a daughter here is not going to happen. Had he been a girl, I would not have agreed to come here either in the first place...

    Hi Jerry - You are so right. And I agree: there is absolutely no good reason for not allowing women to drive here.

    Hi Erin - The women here are not organized and many are quite isolated.
    We are here indefinitely. I don't know what the future holds. For now, as long I can visit my family in the states once a year, I'm ok.

    Hi Tessa - I am trying to find my voice without appearing to be Saudi bashing, which I would never do. It's hard tiptoeing around the women's issues here when they are right in my face and only seem to be getting more stifling. Thanks for your comments.

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  39. Hi LindaD - I thought that photo was perfect for this post. It says so much.

    Hi Mel - I have had male friends and socialized with men all my life. It feels so unnatural to me here - almosty as if I'm constantly in a straight jacket.

    Hi DutchBaby - Thanks so much. And I think Yoli is wonderful...

    Hi Jessie - Many women here are happy with the status quo. I think the younger generation wants more for their lives. Who knows? Maybe change will come...

    Hi SanAntonioCicily - You are right - it's all about control!

    Hi Yoli - Unbelievable! Published in GH magazine in 1955? It's priceless. We've come a long way, baby. I just wonder who wrote that crap...

    Hi Gaelyn - I'm ok here for now. My hubby is open to living elsewhere once his mom is gone. He's being the good son now after being gone for 30 years...

    Hi Lauren - Thanks for expounding on the part about women in the workforce. If women here don't want to work, that's one thing - but prohibiting them from doing so is quite another. Same with driving - if some women don't want to drive, so be it; but let the ones who want to drive, DRIVE! Thanks for your comments.

    Hi SanAntCicily - I like your spin on it!!!

    Hi FitnessMinute - I know women have come a long way in the US, but there are so many more hurdles to jump here. Sometimes it feels like the Dark Ages here...

    Hi MisfitH - I don't really think that I've touched on topics that haven't been written about before here. Women's issues are really discussed openly here. I don't feel I'm being disrespectful or controversial, although someone else might disagree. Yes, bloggers have been shut down and even jailed here for criticizing the government.
    My son agrees with me about women's roles here and thinks it's sad that women are not given more opportunities. He is looking to leave KSA as soon as he can and will go to college in the US.

    Hi Suroor - I like what you said about caging women - it's so true. And sadly, I think many men here want the women to be stupid - they are easier to control that way.

    Hi Sabaa - You raise some really great questions - and I too would love to hear the answers!!! Thanks for your thoughtful contribution to this discussion.

    Hi Debbie - Thanks for the link. I hate seeing women suppressed no matter where they are. India has a lot of the same mentality as KSA...

    Hi SimpleSaudi - Thank you for reminding me why I'm here. I just need to vent sometimes. I am a very optimistic person but these religious rulings that make the news drive me nuts.

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  40. Hi Susie,

    I'm only spending 1 month here in Jeddah on a temp assignment. I may not have seen a lot of the city as yet, but from what I have, I must agree with you.
    At the same time, I think we should all realize that this country is not run on the basis of social laws. It is run on the teachings of the Koran, which was conceived on the basis of the existing social ways at the time. As with most things in religion this never changed, and even now, I would be very surprised if they would (even with time).
    I don't think any of us are in a position to question religion, and even though I do not agree completely with the way things are here I would never assume that I know better.

    On a different note:
    1- Your blog has made Saudi a much easier place to understand and appreciate
    2- I wanted to say how I felt that you were upset about something, but I guess you just gave it away :). You seem to be the most positive person around.
    3- What's this I hear about women possibly being allowed to drive from next year onwards. On of my Saudi colleagues mentioned that this may go into affect next year.

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  41. Exactly what I always think: Why do women have to suffer and are forced to veil themselves to invisibility, just because men cannot "control" themselves?? Doesn't that say a lot about many Arabic men? If they are obviously the ones with the "problem" (come on...), why do women have to pay for it???

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  42. I’ve been reading this blog for a while and enjoyed reading it up till tonight, where I was given the strong incentive to pick a bone with the person who authored the article along with all those who endorsed and fully-approved it, without stopping to look at it in a critical manner. Just to start off, I must say, the article is rather biased against the Saudi society and against it’s clerical panel.

    Taking advantage of the universally-proclaimed principle of freedom of speech, and altering the direction in which the tide of thoughts is heading to, I'd like to share my own insight, as humble as it is, on this topic; the topic of depriving women's rights in this wonderful, truly secure Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    Allow me to start by elaborating on some statements made by Mrs. Susie:

    "Saudi women are either kept hidden at home or hidden in public beneath loose fitting black cloth, cloaking them from head to toe."Time and time again, as always is the case usually is, Westerners don't seem to accept the fact that both Saudi and non-Saudi women practice wearing the Abaya (i.e. large black coat) out of obedience of Allah almighty and to protect their own modesty against the many lunatic, randy blokes who wonder the streets nowadays. Most (I say this with full responsibility of this statement), yes folks, most ladies here, Saudi or non-Saudi, out of the result of their own free choice and faculty of thought "choose” to observe wearing the Ababa and headscarf. It's not to please their husbands; but it's in obedience of their Lord Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. A simple experiment for those in doubt: as most of you are Americans, why don’t you go out to any mall or souk and then vox-pox passing-by women who are wearing the Abaya asking them, ‘Excuse me, but I’d like to know why you wear that ghastly black gown’, and just observe their answers.

    "They are inaccessible. And this is exactly the way the men here want it to be."Behold! Do you think women would be getting more rights if men had access to them?? I strongly think not! I've lived here for 13 years and would boldly say that even suggesting such a thing is a very, very, wrong, wrong suggestion. Why? Simply because it would lead to more oppression of women and more incidents where women would be harassed. That is also the case in many other countries; just look at how women are degraded on the bill-board nowadays. Honoured and liberated when they interact with the opposite gender? I don’t think so – look back at the “civilised” countries for some better insight. Just open any face book account and see what “liberation” has made of our new generation of teenagers – I can speak no further.

    In my humble opinion, the way I see it is that the problem of oppressing Women in this country does not lie with the clerics or the mutawwas because their scope of influence is limited and is certainly not binding upon the general population of this country. My dear bloggers! The problem lies within the multitude of chauvinist men who reside on this soil; it's their attitude towards women and their whole concept of who women are that’s bringing us all the havoc. It's not the clerics; it's not Islam; it's not even the Saudis as a nation, but it the lethal idea many, many, many men carry around with them in this country, whether they are Saudi gentlemen or non-Saudi gentlemen. There's not a day which passes where I don't hear these degrading remarks about women from these ‘gentlemen’ (gentle when they deal with their own gender – men), regarding them as ‘a lower species of human’, ‘having less brain and intellect’, ‘like overgrown children’… and the list goes on. I’ve heard it all. Furthermore, what worries me more is the impact which these statements conceal. In the cruel reality, they carry a lot of misery for many a woman, I can tell you that – it’s the impact of these words and ideas which truly matter. Mind though, not all men in this land fit into the definition as females oppressors.

    Again, I boldly say: once those chauvinistic ideas are wiped away, then we can expect to see some light for women's rights to be uplifted. That's what I think. Now let's all focus our attention in the next article on how we're going to contribute to changing the much distorted image many men carry regarding their fellow sisters in humanity – just to mention, I'm a man myself by the way.

    But before I end, I would like to address the author o this article with my straightforward question: What do you specifically expect the Saudi women to achieve so they may be branded as “liberated”?

    Please, kindly elaborate in detail, and I beg your pardon for my harsh approach to the matter – I just get excited sometimes when I write about a controversial topic, like this one.

    And again, thank you all for giving me the opportunity to stage my opinion.

    Just before I forget, I’d like you all to know that:
    - I’m an advocate of women’s right to drive an automobile.
    - Advocate of women’s right to participate in the political structures of a country.
    - Advocate of women’s right to a full, fair education.
    - However I disagree with women working in restaurants unless she’s the chef.
    - I disagree with the notion that men are allowed to sell ladies’ underwear. It's just has to stop.

    I am a Muslim, too, so I'd like you all to keep that in mind too. Cheerio.

    Written by a humble dweller of this costal metropolis dubbed “Jedda”.

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  43. Just forgot to mention, I wanted to ask you to give your references for each claim you made in you article, namely, I cite:
    - '...these are the same religious leaders who also recently upheld as perfectly permissible the marriages of eight and ten year old girls to old men.'
    - '...now the latest controversy to hit the newsstands is one forbidding Saudi women to appear on television or in print. '
    - '...not that they ever DID here in Saudi Arabia anyway!'
    - '...just the sight of a woman on TV is deemed obscene by the religious clerics.'
    - 'What I don't get is why nothing is ever said about all the violence on TV'
    - 'Another recent inane fatwa (religious ruling) attacks women for riding in vehicles with their drivers, saying that it is highly immoral since intimate conversations in the car can easily lead to immoral conduct.'
    - 'Many of them work in shops in the malls as salesclerks, positions that women are forbidden from holding.'
    I'd love to know where you read about all these, or perhaps they are of your own opinion? Please enlighten me as to where you were told all of this.

    And sorry again if I seem a bit harsh.

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  44. Listen we can argue all day about who wrote what or if its "really true the grass is greener over the septic tank". Let's get real here,can women drive in Saudi Arabia-no, are children married off to dirty old men-yes, can women leave the country without a mans consent-no, can women work in All jobs-no, if women don't want to veil do they have a choice not to-no, is this about religion or control-control. I might also add that in the bible it says you cannot add to or take away from it, it also warns of false profits. The Bahia's have a profit, Islam has a profit, Mormons have a profit and on and on. Who's profit is the real profit-explain this to me. Islam is a cult (sorry if I offend anyone)it oppresses women. God would never tell a woman she cannot work, leave the house, leave the country, or that she cannot pick her own husband without interference from the government! I know what is best for me. I don't need any man or religion to tell me if I can drive, whom I can marry, what I can wear, whether or not I can leave the country or the house. I can make these decisions for myself. Let me ask you this, if a woman disagrees with Islam and all the rules can she leave the KSA? No she can't! Why is that. Why does she need a mans consent. Women have absolutely no choice but to accept this. They are brainwashed from the time they are born that this is OK and normal. If what I said is not true than why can't they be free to leave if they want to? Answer me that! Why can't they leave the KSA without a mans consent???

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  45. What do you specifically expect the Saudi women to achieve so they may be branded as “liberated”? Well happinness. They won't have to be married off to dirty old pedophiles, they will be able to drive, they will be able to wear a bathing suit and frolick at the beach with their kids, they will be able to work if they want to, they will be able to enjoy all the freedoms men have. If the tables were switched how would you feel about not being able to drive and having to rely on someone to drive you around, or not being able to swim, or having to wear a big black bathrobe in 130 degree heat! Infact why don't you try is for a day. I dare you. Put on the black bathrobe, stay at home and wait for your driver (who may be late) and then try to go out to the store or mall or eat with that stupid thing on. So that answer is Happiness. Women will be happy. They won't have to be married to an old man and have sex at the age of 9, they will be able to marry whom ever they want, basically have all the same rights women in the US have. Don't tell me that women don't want these freedoms, if they don't then why is there a law that says they cannot leave the KSA? How many women would leave LOL. WE can play word games all day, but the truth is this about mens needs to control women!

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  46. Hey Anonymous - I had a long reply to you, but it didn't work so I will give you an abbreviated one :)

    I live in Canada, and I have a good friend who is an observant Muslim who wears the abaya and hijab. She occasionally gets questions as to why she would wear these items in Canada as we have the freedom to wear whatever we want. Of course, the people asking this question and trying to qualify it by invoking the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms do not see the delicious irony. SHE IS WEARING WHAT SHE WANTS. She has the choice to wear the abaya and hijab if she wants to, and the choice not to. That choice is left to her, not the government.

    And that is the point of Susie's post, even if it has a Western bias in it. You're right - if you polled many Saudi women, they probably would say that they are glad to wear the abaya, hijab, niqab, etc. That's okay!! I support them in wanting to honour God and/or their husbands in this way. I truly do! What I don't support is that it is written in law that they have to dress this way in public, they can't drive, vote, do anything without the permission of their mahram etc. or face stiff punishments. Let women choose for themselves! This is the point Susie is trying to make!

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  47. One more thing what if they don't believe in Islam then do they still have to follow these stupid rules? Would you go so far as to say that they should have no choice in their religion too? If they don't believe in Islam and these rules than why can't they just leave the KSA? Sounds like control to me. It sounds like women have no choice. This is not freedom-it is women being controlled in every aspect of thier lives. They can't even leave if they don't believe in Islam. This is really scarry!!!

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  48. Hi Ashwin - Yes, this is an Islamic country, but the problem is that many of the restrictions placed on women here have no basis in Islam. I am not questioning the religion. I am saying that religion is used as the reason for many of the unfair restrictions placed on women here. Pure and simple, it is men trying to control and dominate women. I realize that this is their culture, but just because things have been done this way doesn't make them right. There are many cultural traditions that used to be carried out for years in the past, and today we see how barbaric and inhumane they were.
    There has been talk of women driving here for a long time - I don't see it happening any time soon.

    Hi Bo - My point exactly! Thanks for your comment.

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  49. Hi Anonymous - I don't know what got you all riled up because it seems that we are in agreement about most things.
    You can do your research just as easily as I do online, but here are a few links in answer to your request for references:

    http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/01/17/saudi.child.marriage/

    http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle.asp?xfile=data/opinion/2009/March/opinion_March117.xml&section=opinion&col

    http://www.nowpublic.com/world/saudi-clerics-want-ban-women-tv-print-music

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7908866.stm

    http://arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=118274&d=18&m=1&y=2009&pix=kingdom.jpg&category=Kingdom


    There are no articles about religious clerics objecting to violence on TV, which proves my point exactly.

    If Saudi women love the abaya so much, why is it that many Saudi women can hardly wait to strip off those damn abayas as soon as they are airborne leaving the country?

    Nowhere in the Koran does it say that a woman must wear a black abaya. The only reference in the religion is that women should dress modestly and cover their bosoms.

    The ONLY reason I wear the abaya here is to try to blend in because everyone else is wearing it. If women would simply dress modestly in a variety of colors and wear pants out, I would too. The ONLY reason I wear the hijab is because my husband wants me to. I think it's ridiculous that I came here at age 55 having lived my whole life exposing my hair to the world all those years and have to suddenly cover my hair to hide my faded beauty at this point in my life. To me, it's absurd.

    I think you have the wrong idea about the word accessible. In my opinion, women should have the right to work even if it involves interacting with men. Men here need to be put on notice that their behavior towards women should be respectful. What gives men here the right to harass women? Is this islamic behavior? Get a clue. Women are not the problem.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that MEN are the problem!!!

    I stated my opinions in this blog post based on what I have read. And I didn't think you were harsh at all. Thanks for commenting.

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  50. Hi Cicily - Thank you!!! The facts are the facts - there's no arguing with it. My husband and other Saudi men are in denial that these inequities exist here.

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  51. To Mel and Cicily - Thanks very much for your fine examples of what this post is about! I love you !!!

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  52. Even my Iraqi friend who has some backwards views on life sometimes agrees that the laws in Saudi Arabia are rediculous! In Iraq women drive, go out alone, I'm not saying they are perfect but there laws are very liberal compared to Saudi Arabia. They have many different religions there too! Although now one has to wonder now that Saddam is gone what will Iraq be like in the future with all these religious fanatics running around! Women never had to veil now they do it just out of fear! It's not a law though, it's their choice. They can also mingle with the opposite sex and go to school together! I just hope that women continue to enjoy the freedoms they had under Saddam. I hope Iraq doesn't turn into another Iran, without Saddam to keep it under check! There is a reason that women cannot leave the KSA and have to accept Islam, if this law did not exist I believe a lot of women would leave, infact I know so! Women are slaves in Saudi Arabia, the question is when will they be freed?

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  53. Intriguing disclosures Susie. Truly a brave and bold attempt in unveiling the situations there. It was most certainly awkward to strut into a departmental store with men, men and just men. It just felt so wrong. Will you get into trouble for revealing these provocative statements?

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  54. To me the world you live in is unimaginable and indeed probably true for the average Canadian/American down south.

    I would hope in time equality will become more important and acceptable in SA. Women are EQUAL wherever they live on this earth, we just have to apparently fight for the right. Sad but true.

    To veil every woman for fear of them inciting lust on a man is sickening and says little for the men of your country. Have they no self control?

    Very interesting topic indeed and hope to read more of it from you..

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  55. @San Antonio Cicily--Bravo!
    My father taught me to stand up for myself and even was proud of me when I argued with him. He encouraged me to get a profession. All so that I would never have to be dependent on any man or ever take any kind of abuse from any man. And he always reminded me in an era when all ministers were men that "no man stands between you and God". Love you Dad!
    @anonymous--you just don't get it do you?

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  56. @San Antonio Cicily--Bravo!
    My father taught me to stand up for myself and even was proud of me when I argued with him. He encouraged me to get a profession. All so that I would never have to be dependent on any man or ever take any kind of abuse from any man. And he always reminded me in an era when all ministers were men that "no man stands between you and God". Love you Dad!
    @anonymous--you just don't get it do you?

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  57. I just thought of something...isolation, control and jealously are all signs of domestic violence.

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  58. U said it Susie, one step forward, two (or more) steps back.

    The King is sending women by the hundreds to get educated in universities all around the world, not to mention the huge expenditure on education in Saudi... yet, when you think of it... for what?

    We have a saying that is loosely translated as this (they have no mercy, and they wont let gods mercy come through)

    This is like, if one person had a car accident... then the reaction would be to ban all cars.

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  59. Hi Susie,

    I have a question. If your husband wanted to, could he prevent your son from leaving Saudi Arabia until he is 21 years old, or can your son leave at age 18 because he was born in the United States?
    Thanks.

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  60. Susie - great post on another important topic. I've spent most of the last five years here talking about, reading about, writing about and -frankly - praying about and for the women in Saudi Arabia. With every move forward they make, the men in control of things push them back, and usually twice as hard.

    Take women exercising, for example. A fit woman is more confident and confident women terrify weak men. A gym can be a place where women feel safe and secure and are able to network - thus making them more powerful in spirit and mind, not just muscle - again, a terrifying possibility for men who have worked so hard to control "their" women through isolation, learned helplessness and mind control - all of which are easily seen here in Saudi.

    So, a few years ago, women got together and demanded the right to exercise - if not on the streets, at least behind closed doors of gyms and fitness centers. It was a struggle, but in the end, at least a few such centers were opened. Now, the positive results of exercise and all it entails - discipline, motivation, self reliance, increased mental and physical vigor, etc - as well as the benefits women gain by networking- are becoming evident.

    Of course the Hai'a (and men of Saudi) are scared silly! And they're responding the only way they know how - by pushing back.

    But they underestimate woman's natural desire for freedom and equality.

    I have tremendous faith in the women of Saudi Arabia. They are proud and intelligent, they have hearts the size of Texas and they WILL force change.

    I believe that. I see it happening every day. The Hai'a can take shut down the gyms or push women back any way they want, but they can't stop the momentum.

    (Btw Sorry this got so long! I get a little passionate about these things!)

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  61. What it all boils down to is that God gave the freedom of choice to both men and women...to live a life with morality and decency...with self autonomy and basic human rights...with the ability to decide whether to do right or do wrong...and face the consequences either way...God gave that gift to BOTH genders...and yet man decided long ago that women are not capable of handling such a gift and took it away...and now use God and religion as the excuse for such a monumental theft.

    When someone steals something precious from you...you have to decide if its worth fighting for to get it back.

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  62. LOL hahahaha these men would never stand a chance in the US. The first time they told a woman she couldn't drive she'd run'em over! I don't think American women would ever trade their margaritas and bikini's for veils and controling men! I know I wouldn't! This is MY LIFE I'll run it how I see fit. I don't need a man to tell me what I can or can't do or a religion for that matter. I would love to see one of these guys married to me hahahhaha. My Iraqi friend can't even stand me! These men would kill themselves it they had to be married to me! I'm so evil!!! and I like it!

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  63. Hi Susie!!

    Hmm.. Interesting Blog post but to be honest it deeply contrasts with what my Saudi girlies have been telling me..

    Maybe it would do some of you good if you talk to an ACTUAL Saudi women - one who was born & raised in a (average) Saudi family - and see what they have to say about their own country & lives.

    Just a thought ;-)

    P.S. I recently asked the girls from Saudi about this statement, "Saudi women are either kept hidden at home or hidden in public beneath loose fitting black cloth, cloaking them from head to toe and the reaction was the same: Laughter. In fact, they seem to pity Western women and don't want to "be like them".

    So what's all this about bringing our way of life on another society, just because we don't agree with it?

    Another person once tried this, and he ended up bringing the white colonist powers to Africa -- and look how well they are doing ie. Apartheid and it's repercussions.

    And for the record, Saudi Arabia is far from the "image of Islam" -- as Susie mentioned, many of these rules & regulations do not stem from the religion itself.

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  64. I don't think American women would ever trade their margaritas and bikini's for veils and controling menLet's reverse this statement:

    I don't think Saudi women would ever trade their modest garments for bikinis and margaritas and controlling menThe funny thing about this is that Western women are "controlled" by men as much as other nations - the only difference is that major newspapers aren't writing it as if it's the juiciest story of the day.

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  65. Actually someone in my family did work in Saudi Arabia for 10 years and talked to many many women and also attended a forced wedding. Not all Saudi women are happy. A lot of them would like to get the hell out of there if they could! Same with Iran my cousins wife is from Iran. Her and her brother were all too happy to leave and go to the Philippines, where they now live with my dad! If you are happy great but not every woman is. Just like people are not happy with the US that is why my family left here! In any case lets change the law so that women can leave KSA without a mans consent and see what happens!!! People can find every reason in the world why every woman should suffer because some women and men think that this way of life is good. Some women don't agree with it and want out. Why can't they leave? I just want to know why they can't leave with out the consent of a man?

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  66. I don't think so. I can leave the country when ever I want! I can drive, work, wear what I want. So tell me how are American women controlled? Women have a obligation to help women around the world when It comes to womens rights. There are many many women in KSA that would trade their veils for bikini's. Tell that to the woman crying at her own wedding when she had to marry a guy she didn't like!!! NOt all women love KSA!

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  67. If you would like I can certainly contact my family members and compile a list of names of women who want out of there and send them to you!

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  68. And for the record, Saudi Arabia is far from the "image of Islam" -- as Susie mentioned, many of these rules & regulations do not stem from the religion itself. ...Ask me if I where they stem from? the bottom line is all women are suffering because some men and women believe that all men and women should live this way. You know you can fix this to a degree, let them leave of their own free will with out the consent of a man!

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  69. each day I'm wondering if Saudi is an alien world....just forget for a second that women can't drive, work in a shop, mingle with man and so on and think what could have happen in Europe if those stupid things were applied here (it will be a sorth list I don't want to bore you too much)

    Madame Curie wpuld be forced to stay at home and all her discoveries wouldn't happened (and also her TWO nobel prizes)

    Rita Levi Montalcini would have spend her 100 years at home and no discoveries from her.

    Many discoveries were madre by women and their abilities to work along men, maybe this one of the reason that the majority of modern scientic inventions/innovation were made in western world (i count as western Japan and Korea).

    Even when women couldn't vote here in Europe/America they had more freedon compared to Saudi.

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  70. @Aalia--I don't drink or wear bikinis but the point is I could if I wanted to--as well as have any education I want and any career I want etc. I challenge all those girls you talk to to come and live in a country with equal rights and all the freedoms so frequently pointed out in this post--and then choose to return to Saudi. It is probably difficult to miss or imagine what you have never experienced. You keep missing the point which is the freedom to choose how you want to live and your neighbor's freedom to choose how she wants to live. Go ahead --cover up, never make a meaningful decision, (picking out makeup and a new purse is not meaningful--meaningful is voting, picking a spouse or not, having children or not, choosing a career or not etc. etc.)never take responsibility, never use the talent and intelligence God gave you. Be an Abaya Barbie if you so choose--but let another woman have the right to make a different choice.

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  71. That comment above was NOT anonymous it was Sirius. Very--

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  72. OKay to be clear -- I am a Westerner myself currently living in the Gulf -- and in no way am I saying that women have to be *forced* to do anything.

    Where did I give the impression that I did?

    All I was saying was that I know plenty of girls from Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah & other cities across KSA and they never say "oh poor us, we wanna be free like you (a Canadian) and we wanna drive, not wear `abayas etc etc."

    One example was at a feast hosted by a Saudi sister; she had the t.v. on and it was E! Tonight doing a special on the richest women in the world or something. So everytime do u think when so-and-so was wearing a Gucci dress the Saudis were all like, "I wish we could wear something like that!!" -- Umm, no! All I heard was the clicking of tongues.

    Am not gonna get into the more harsher criticism that was said about Western culture because that's not what my comment is about.

    My comment is to all of you who think we should impose OUR way of living on a foreign society, and that every Saudi women out there is BEGGING to be "freed" -- think again. At the same time, I am not denying the fact that YES, there are lotsa other Saudi women who do wanna live like Westerners but not *everyone*.

    A woman shouldn't be told to cover but at the same time, she should not be told to un-cover. Anyone who says so is as guilty as the "religious police" who go after a woman they don't think is dressed according to THEIR standards.

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  73. Sirius said,

    Go ahead --cover up, never make a meaningful decision, (picking out makeup and a new purse is not meaningful--meaningful is voting, picking a spouse or not, having children or not, choosing a career or not etc. etc.)never take responsibility, never use the talent and intelligence God gave you. Be an Abaya Barbie if you so choose--but let another woman have the right to make a different choice.OKay, so you think just because a woman *chooses* to cover that she cannot do anything beyond picking out makeup and clothes?

    If we all believed in that kind of thinking, women in long skirts and blouses are not capable of making life decisions. A nun does not have the mind to live her life she way she sees fit. WTH, even the Pope himself cannot choose his own day plans, with all those robes he wears!!

    Maybe you should try looking at your own society -- I hear Michelle Obama has a clothes stylist in case she decides to wear something in public that is "inappropriate". I recall a case before the election when she wore a dress that was described as "not suitable for a woman in her position".

    Mm-hmm... Even the President of the USA's wife has to be told what she can and cannot wear.

    Crazy :/

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  74. Thanks to everyone for commenting and letting your voices be heard.

    Hi Anon - The answer is YES - my husband could restrict my son from leaving KSA until he is 21. Asima's son (I just wrote a 4part series about being widowed in KSA prior to this post) has been restricted from leaving by his legal guardian since his dad passed away. It happens. My son has a US passport but that doesn't matter. The mahram here has the final say over women and children.

    Hi Sand - I hope you are right about women here forcing change to come - it is WAY overdue... Thanks for commenting!

    Hi CoolRed - You are absolutely right. The freedom to choose has been stripped of women here, using religion as the excuse. I have always made my own decisions, whether they were good or bad - but they were MY decisions. At my age, being forced to defer to my husband is a very tough pill to swallow.

    Hi Cicily - You ARE evil!!! LOL.

    Hi Aalia - I have talked to Saudi women - young ones and old ones. Like us, not everyone thinks the same ways or wants the same things. But the point I'm making is to let women here have the choice.
    No one is saying saying that women should be forced to UNcover. The point we are making is that women should be given the choice - and not be given any grief about it either way. CHOICE is the issue here - women in KSA do NOT have the choice.
    Hi CountryGirl - Women have made significant contributions to mankind throughout history. Women in KSA are not given the opportunities to make a difference if they would like to try. Thanks for your comment.

    Hi Always - No, I'm ok - just another little airing out!

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  75. Hi Aalia - A nun has CHOSEN her life. Michelle Obama has a stylist to advise her on what to wear, but the ultimate decision is her own. Nobody is telling Michelle Obama what she can or cannot wear. The press influences her decisions because of how brutal and critical they are about what she wears (when really, who cares?) - but they are NOT telling her what to wear. There's a HUGE difference here. Your examples don't really fit the situation. Choice is what we're talking about.

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  76. Aalia--I did not mean to equate "covering up" with not making a meaningful decision--my husband works with women who cover and work as physicians (for heaven's sake, stop twisting peoples' words to in order to make silly illogical points). Of course Michelle Obama is bravely changing the way President's wives are expected to look--of course, she gets criticized. And again, although the press seems to think so, I hardly think choosing her wardrobe is as important as her career choice, or her choice of husband.
    She chooses, she thinks, (she has a law degree)she takes the heat.
    Has anyone ever even seen the wives of the king here on the news?
    I am fully aware you can choose to be a bimbo fully covered or in a mini-skirt. As you can choose to be a smart, independent responsible woman fully covered or in a mini-skirt. As Susie and I keep stressing, the point is choice. Siriusly, a mind is a terrible thing to waste and maybe you need to watch something more educational than Entertainment Tonight.

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  77. I know it is a little off topic, but I hope someone can answer this. Can an Egyptian father keep his American-born son from leaving the country until he becomes 21 years old?

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  78. A comment that I hope isn't too offensive. Saudis are all Muslim. if they are all Muslim, and Islam informs their behavior, why do women need all this protection? Why do you need morality police to keep everyone in check? Why do women have to hide themselves away? Would good Muslim men know how to act, even if women were stark naked?

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  79. You know what Aalia, I don't care if you walk around in a friggin Star Trek costume. This is not the point. Women in Saudi Arabia have no choice at this point. If they don't like the rules they cannot leave the country. Are you so ignorant that you cannot see this! Where is the choice here? What about the women who think all these rules are a bunch of crap and don't wanna follow them, or the ones who think Islam is a bunch of crap, what choice do they have? I want an answer from you as to what you think these women should do? Tell me do you believe that these women should have a choice or not. Do you think they should be able to leave the country without the permission of a man? Let me ask you how would you feel if you lived in a country that told you could not be Muslim, how would you feel? What is your opinion of the laws in Saudi Arabia, tell us Aalia!!!

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  80. Oh and Aalia what would you tell the 8 year old little girl being married off to an 80 year old pedophile, being forced to have sex at the age of 8? Do you think that she loves these laws too, just like your Saudi Friends do? How do you feel about this girls rights?

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  81. What if the government told you you could not leave Canada with out the permission of your husband and everyone was told they had to wear care bears costumes in public to promote happiness in the Kingdom, and you were told you could not drive because you are a female care bear and a male care bear may try to do unwholsome acts with you and all the male care bears said you couldn't work because your place was in the home making little care bears and cleaning up their colorful care bear poop and your care bear husband decided to marry of your 8 year old care bear girl to pay a debt to Abdul care bear who is 80 years old and likes little care bears a lot!!! And then your care bear husband dies and his husbands family makes your life a living hell and takes all your care bear children and rules your life!

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  82. The problem with this conversation is that all of you are getting your stuff from sources other than the people themselves -- what about the Saudi women?

    Do any of you actually know any Saudis? (besides Susie is is married to one and has Saudi inlaws)...

    I challenge any of you to find a Saudi, ask them what they think of the laws and they will tell u *exactly* how THEY Feel.

    I'm %100 sure they will say that marrying a 8 year old to a 80 year old is wrong -- and that these are isolated cases that happen in the less-educated parts of the country.

    Come on, before you make assumptions try reading about the history and it's demographic variety. A Saudi man once claimed he was a Prophet just because he memorized the Quran. People believed him because they didn't know any better -- just like the ones marrying their children at very young ages to men. Any scholar will say that is illegal and not from the religion of Islam, including a Saudi!!

    All I ask is that we stop ourselves from talking like as if we all know what goes on over here, while most of us are just sitting in our houses in USA. Even I don't pretend to know ALL ABOUT SAUDI since I have never even been, and I only go by what actual Saudis have told me.

    Anyways I am in no way trying to sound harsh *or defend the strange rules that are inhumane & un-Islamic*, and I find this comment section interesting and am looking forward to see what y'all are gonna say next :-D

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  83. @Aailia - I totally get what you're saying, I've already used the example of my Muslim friend who wears the abaya and hijab all the time, and I would assume that many Saudi women are perfectly happy wearing these things. Some (or many) may be happy not driving or working, and may not mind at all deferring to their husbands or other mahrams. I wouldn't begrudge them that. However, not everybody fits into that cookie-cutter mould, and those who are not happy with their lot are forced to conform by governmental restrictions. Perhaps this is my Western bias peeking out, but I'm glad I was able to choose the career that I wanted, and I can live where I want, and so on, and to not have that choice is deplorable to me.

    As for E! Television, no wonder those Saudi women you spoke of don't want to "be like us". Shows like that are a horrible misrepresentation of the West. Not everybody in the West wants to be Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, either.

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  84. I already told you I would get you a list of women who want out of Saudi Arabia from my family members who LIVED IN SAUDI ARABIA AND TALKED TO ACTUAL SAUDI WOMEN!!!

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  85. .....FROM A SAUDI WOMAN HERSELF....(CBS)
    One woman took 60 Minutes on a tour of her house, and showed a separate entrance and living room for men. The woman said the men's living room is separated by a closed door from the living room for women. She also said that unless guests are close relatives, men and women don’t sit together in the same room. It’s not a custom she would consider violating.

    "The society force it. And if you do something against the society, you will feel, you will have a problem," she says. "So it’s better to go within the mainstream of the society, fit in, be conformist in a way, and be innovative in another way."

    According to the rules of Saudi society, a woman needs written permission from a man to do almost anything: to get an education, to get a job, and even to buy a plane ticket.

    Ironically, half the country’s college graduates are women. But they make up only 5 percent of the work force. There are no polls on how most of them feel about their situation, but one woman told 60 Minutes how she felt. She approached us while we were filming, and asked us to follow her. Our cameraperson, a woman, followed the woman into a ladies room, where the woman removed her veil. 60 Minutes obscured her face to protect her identity.

    The woman began talking to us about what she wants: "I like to drive. Here, the woman cannot drive. And I like here to have a cinema…a movie."

    And then, finally, she said: "I like to be free. All people want to be free."

    Gaining that freedom will be difficult. Social attitudes here are deeply ingrained. Muslim clerics preach that “women’s rights” is a western idea the United States is trying to impose. And they enforce a strict social code that determines everything -- from the kind of clothing women may wear to whether they can drive.

    "Woman must be given the right to drive. There is nothing in Islam, there is nothing against women driving," says al-Dakheel.

    And what would the reaction of conservatives be, if women were allowed to drive? "Oh, they would hate that," says al-Dakheel.

    Should women in this country have equal rights? Al-Dakheel says yes: "There is nothing in Islam against women and men being equal."

    Considering her story, it might seem surprising that Rania al-Baz does not advocate full equality. A well-known television personality, al-Baz is hardly a feminist or a reformer.

    "I think Saudi women live a life of luxury," says al-Baz. "Would you prefer to drive a car yourself, or to be driven? I have my own driver, and if I get divorced, my brothers have to feed me, house me, and drive me! Am I living a life of luxury? Yes I am. It’s high living."

    But until April of last year, al-Baz was also living a secret life – a life of physical abuse by her husband, who she says finally tried to kill her.

    "He grabbed me and threw me on the ground. Then he choked me, and told me to declare my faith, this is what someone says just before dying," says al-Baz. "Then he choked me so hard that I woke up in the hospital four days later."

    But instead of keeping what happened to her a secret, al-Baz caused a sensation, when a television show broadcast pictures of her injuries and she became the first Saudi woman to break the taboo against publicly discussing domestic violence.

    "I am trying, as a Saudi woman, to raise the awareness of unstable men, who sees women as inferior, who resort to violence, and who are abusive to women," says al-Baz.

    "God willing, I will try to make sure this doesn't happen to another woman, so I can be the last woman ever beaten."

    Dr. Saleh al-Sheikh, the minister for Islamic affairs in Saudi Arabia, says a combination of factors determines a Saudi woman’s obligations -- the most important of which is raising a family.

    "The circumstance of women here in Saudi Arabia is a mix of tribal, social, and historical circumstances. And there is religion, too," says al-Sheikh.

    Does he believe in equal rights for women?

    "I believe in equal right for everyone according to their circumstances," says al-Sheikh. "Women do have rights, but they are based on our view of their obligations in life."

    Women’s obligations was one of the subjects of what for Saudi Arabia was an unprecedented event -- a series of discussions on the future of the country called “the national dialogue.” Organized by the government, both men and women participated, including Munif.

    Were they all sitting together in the same room? "No, we were not," says Munif. "Actually, we were in two separate rooms. With a television, we were able to see the men. But, the men were not able to see us. But, they were hearing our voices. And believe me our voices were very loud."

    "It was really funny. They were in one room and we were in another," says al-Dakheel. "We were not communicating really together. …We hear their voice on the microphone."

    "I would imagine that there were probably many people in this country who objected to even that," says Bradley.

    "Yes. Sometimes, the argument was really heated in that room, and over this issue both from men and women," says al-Dakheel. "Some women were for segregation, and other women were demanding desegregation. So what you have here is really something boiling in this society. … a lot of discussions."

    "Saudi Arabia is a country in transition. This country needs its time to find its footing," says Prince Sultan bin Salman, a member of the Saudi royal family. He's concerned about the consequences of the changes being discussed in Saudi Arabia.

    "If the government moves too fast here, is there concern that there could be agitation, social revolution," asks Bradley.

    "This has always been a government or a country of consensus. We have a consensus system here that works. It has served us well for three hundred years. Kept the stability," says bin Salman. "That’s the most important thing. It’s not important to have elections. It’s important to have stability."

    The question is how long the Saudi government can maintain that stability without participating in the debate on change. Is the government listening?

    "That’s a very interesting question," says al-Dakheel. "Because they are not willing to get involved in this dialogue. And unless the government gets involved in this dialogue, it will be really nonsense."

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  86. @Aalia, I do live in Saudi. You are a silly silly girl. Enshallah someday you will learn to read. Susie lives in Saudi and talks to Saudis everyday (for God's sake-she married one) My husband and I live in Saudi and talk to Saudis. Cicily talks to Saudis--And after, enshallah you learn to read, enshallah you may learn to think. Siriusly, I give up--

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  87. Hey Sirius, the rules of this comment section are to be "nice, civil and constructive".

    Insha'Allah you will be the one to learn how to read ;-)

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  88. YOU NEVER ANSWERED MY QUESTION AALIA, I WANT AN ANSWER TO MY QUESTION...Where is the choice here? What about the women who think all these rules are a bunch of crap and don't wanna follow them, or the ones who think Islam is a bunch of crap, what choice do they have? I want an answer from you as to what you think these women should do? Tell me do you believe that these women should have a choice or not. Do you think they should be able to leave the country without the permission of a man? Let me ask you how would you feel if you lived in a country that told you could not be Muslim, how would you feel? What is your opinion of the laws in Saudi Arabia, tell us Aalia!!! should all women be forced to practice islam and have a male guardian, should women be allowed to leave the country?

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  89. I hear you talking about the (rights of women in Saudi who love things the way they are but) I don't hear you talking about the (rights of the women in Saudi Arabia who don't believe in Islam or the laws in Saudi Arabia), are their rights not as important as the rights of the muslim Saudi women who love the laws!

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  90. @Aalia--believe me--compared to what I wanted to write what I wrote was very very very nice! Siriusly.

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  91. Errrrr -- I thought I already made it clear that a woman should have the right to make her own choices...

    Calm down now, San Antonio Cicily...

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  92. P.S. There are no "tough questions" on this thread -- I have heard the same ol' same ol' from ppl all over the world. And it's always the same thing.

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  93. Well good Aalia you finally accept the fact and acknowledge the fact that not all women love the laws in Saudi Arabia and they should have a choice and be able to make their own decisions about THEIR own lives! and they should be able to leave the KSA without the consent of a man and have every single human right that a man has! I'm glad we agree!!!

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  94. I'm glad we got that out of the way now I can put on my bikini and break out the blender for some much needed margaritas,Jimmi Buffet and Emilio Navaira after I drive really fast to the store and pick up some Hungry Man tv dinners, because I'll be relaxing in the backyard while my husband heats them up!!!!!!!!!

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  95. @San Antonio Cicily--normally I do not drink but if I were in San Antonio right now I would join you for a couple big Margaritas! Gotta love the answers to your tough questions! :)

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  96. Linda D.
    I would start off by saying that I agree it is completely wrong to impose one's beliefs and customs on another culture.

    Having said that I would like to say two things:

    1)You can judge a country by how well they treat their minorities.
    (heard a newscaster say that)In this instance we're talking about a politcal minority.

    2)No man has the right rob anyone of their God given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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  97. Meanwhile I am watching "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" :-)

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  98. Hi, Probably the cases where women aren't allowed to work in all feilds exists in certain countries? I watch Saudi channels with programmes that have both a male and female presenter and the woman doesnt even wear an abaya, just jeans, a top and a shaylah. There are other programmes too where they have both male and female presenters.

    http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=57051&d=4&m=1&y=2005

    Atleast, they are considering the idea of letting women vote insha'allah. Atleast, that's a step. Give them some more time.

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  99. Well you enjoy your day Aalia, I need to shoot my husband in the head with my nerf dart gun I need another margarita! He better speed it up too! I wanna know whats taking so long for those tv dinners too?

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  100. oops i meant cities not countries :|

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  101. Susie
    I think the end of Saudi society will come when women are told once and for all that they are not to have an education...That they have no right to thought of any type (something I think they are slowly gravitating to if you don't have anything productive to do -telling the maid to do this or the other does not count as productivity).
    That day then it will be best for all to leave; die; or go stark mad...

    All this religious sanctioned stuff by scholars- may their lives be shortened for every woman they oppress- is a whole bunch of hog wash- when in every other direction, with very little exception, women in other majority Muslim live their lives in varying degrees of equality to men.

    They are destroying their country faster than they are probably destroying their particular view of religion.

    I can see it now a fatwa that will allow fathers to bury their baby daughters in the sand...and there then goes everything.

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  102. Reading this article and all of these responses reminded me of a controversy that happened at my university a couple years ago. Apparently, there were to be seven Saudi female students studying at my university, and the Saudi corporation that sponsored them asked my university if they could exclude males from an entire floor of the International House in order to accommodate them. This request was turned down as it went against the spirit of I-House - this building is 60% international students and 40% Canadian students, allowing for cultural exchanges to take place and reduce the potential culture shock...by segregating the females, this isn't helping achieve that vision. It'd be hard to regulate non-male floors, especially since others may have boyfriends and male friends on that floor. Anyway, I don't know exactly why they would make such a request, especially since there are stand-alone houses available on campus where these ladies would get a house to themselves, pretty much right next door to I-House (literally!) as well as facilities available to international students. I think that's what eventually happened, anyhow.

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  103. If the tables were turned and American students went to college in Saudi Arabis would the men and women be able to mingle and visit each other on that campus? I think not. We are not going to segregate women in the US (I think you were talking about Canada but I'll use the US as an example). If they don't like it tell them to go back to Saudi Arabia!!! It's a free country women can sleep with whomever they want mingle with whomever they want and marry whomever they want and drive etc. Men and women have equal rights and the men must behave themselves! This is called freedom!

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  104. All I can say is that it will be interesting to see what happens to Saudi Arabia in the next 20 to 50 years!

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  105. Well it caused quite a bit of controversy as many said that we should respect their culture (which is fair enough), but considering the aims of that particular dorm (it houses about 150), segregation of a whole floor to accommodate 7 people and their culture seemed odd, especially with separate houses available for them. I find this interesting too in that these students would be segregated at home only - classes they attend would likely have a healthy mix of both genders.

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  106. When a baby is born it depends on its parents to meet every need. When the baby grows into an adult it takes care of itself. The freedom that comes with being an adult also brings about responsibility. Aalia, if you and your friends don't mind being kept, maybe it's because none of you want the responsibility that comes with freedom.

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  107. "Men and women have equal rights and the men must behave themselves! This is called freedom!"

    So freedom is having an open raging society, where half the population are bastards?

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  108. Well if you want to put it that way then I guess so. You're just pissed of becasue either you are male who can't controll American women or you are a woman who is jealous of our freedom. I could care less about what other people do! The point is that I am FREE TO DO WHAT EVER I WANT!!!!

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  111. "You're just pissed of becasue either you are male who can't controll American women or you are a woman who is jealous of our freedom."

    I am neither, actually.

    "I could care less about what other people do! The point is that I am FREE TO DO WHAT EVER I WANT!!!!"

    At what cost, though? And also, the rest of America doesn't really agree with you; why is everyone so agaist gay marriage, then? And if you agree with gay marriage, then you must agree with polygamy. Why should the polygamist "prophet" guy in Utah be procesuted? Isn't he free to do what he wants?

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  112. I'm finished with this conversation! I do not believe in gay marriage but I also don't believe in stoning them! The profit guy in Utah was molesting children and engaging in behavior that is against the law. In the US children are not allowed to get married and you cannot engage in sexual behavior with them. Most civilized societies agree with this! If people in Saudi Arabia want change it has to come from them. This is not something that should or can be forced on them. The only people who can change this is them. I still in my heart believe that women should at least have the opportunity to leave the country if they want to. Nothing constructive can come from bashing each other or engaging in angry conversations. There needs to be open dialog from both sides and a willingness of both party's to offer their point of view and be open to trying to understand where the other is coming from. Neither the United States or Saudi Arabia are perfect. They each have their unique social problems. I can never truly understand without living in Saudi Arabia this culture, as I am sure that Saudi's who have never lived in the US can understand where Americans are coming from. I do believe that there are many misunderstandings on both sides and this is where constructive conversation can come from. Not all American women are adult film stars or women who sleep with every man on the continent, nor are all middle eastern men terrorists and wife beaters! This is far from the truth! So I ask what is it that middle eastern women want, I want to understand where they are coming from, as well as mens point of views. I have many questions such as why some families do not accept the sons wives from the US. This is just one question of many that I have. I don't ask this out of anger or a preconceived view of Saudi people, I just wonder why. There may be a very good reason that they feel this way. My point is that I would rather try to understand then engage in angry conversation that leads to nothing but more anger and misunder standings.

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  113. Dear Susie,

    Thnx & it's all good :-D

    Had fun actually!!

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  114. P.S. The second picture you have of the person completely veiled isn't a woman -- it's actually a man who likes to dress up in veils & look at pictures of real women who wear the niqaab.

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  115. Ooooooooh! Sounds like the widow Asima just has like so much fun like too-whatever! :)

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  116. I have now read this post three times. The first time was a superficial reading. The second time I went deepr into it. The third time was to come away with a critical and objective view of the issues Susie discusses.

    My verdict is that I have rarely seen, read or watched pieces as balanced as this one when it comes to Islam. I commend the writer for keeping her focus throughout the piece, i.e., women, and for a magnificent analysis of a society that is as closed to its female inhabitants as it is to the outside world.

    Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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  117. I have just read that a new judge "ordered" by a "very important person" has granted the divorce of the eight year old girl sold by her father to a man in his 50's. This small victory was attained because of international outcry. To be noted-to all those really "happy" Saudi females--the girl's mother was the one requesting the divorce petition for her eight year old daughter--and was denied the divorce (who cares what mom thinks) by a judge twice and it was only through diplomatic foreign intervention that this girl's "divorce" was achieved. So I guess there is one mother out there happy to have foreigners "intruding". But what I wonder is what the mother's life will be like now that her husband has been "humiliated"? That mother is one brave woman. How many female children do you think have been sold into sexual slavery (oops-"married")to these pedophiles? And to think it took international pressure and a VIP (any guesses who?) to overcome the Saudi judicial system.

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  118. Not so y'all think I am a huge supporter of Saudi's system -- which I DEF. AM NOT -- and I have some questions too for whoever is *really* in charge:

    Why does big-shot Alwaleed bin Talal have a building & business property where Saudi women can wear whatever they want -- in cluding jeans and t-shirt?! Isn't that supposed to be illegal???? And yup they're ALL Saudi women since he declared that he will only hire them to work for this particular company. Double-standards like this is part of what's wrong with the laws/social structure.

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  119. Now that is truly comparable to selling an eight year old girl to a dirty 50 year old man. ahw mah gawd jeans and t-shirts--like eeeeeeew!

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  120. I admit I Know Saudi only from the different blogs and i've never liced there but I'm wondering all those saudi women that are "happy" of their life, that think it's ok to go around only with a male permission and so on in which kind of family they grew up....imagine if you grow up with a family that keep on saying that women are worthless, that gives the lion share of everything to males of the family, that doesn't allow women to pursue an higher education and so on it's natural for them to think that it's ok to live in that way...I'm wondering among the "educated" women that were able to travel and study abroad how many wants a big change in Saudi....and here i'm not talking about going in miniskirt but basic rights as driving cars, work with men, going in restaurant with unrelated men, not to be afraid to show some hairs (or the face) and so on....

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  121. Sirius, you really are being *rude* and I expect more mature behavior from someone who is most likely older than me.

    Am 21 BTW

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  122. And how am I being rude??--This is just my sense of humor. Perhaps you can explain to me how women being allowed to wear jeans and t-shirts is comparable to selling eight year old girls to pedophiles.
    Perhaps I expect more "intelligent" comments about the serious subjects Susie brings up.

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  123. Hi Susie,

    What a great post, you speak the truth. For the past two months, have been thinking the same...

    Also wondering: Why are so many women tolerating this? I know there can be repercussions, but women are not powerless, so why do they go along like they do?

    And why veil when you only have to cover your head? Why wear black when you can wear color?

    What am I missing here?

    nola

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  124. A humble dweller of this costal metropolis dubbed “Jedda”May 1, 2009, 3:36:00 AM

    Good evening,
    This is my second post, just to let you all know, and will most probably be my last, at least in regards to this specific topic, hence any posts sent in my name after this date are most certainly not mine.
    I abstain from saying much of what I wanted to say due to the fact that this discussion has gone much out of hand and has turned from a rational talk into an outright barney... so I shall be pulling out, but before I do, here are my last comments:

    Good evening Mel,Yes, generally speaking, I agree with the point you made in your post dated Wed Apr 29, 02:22:00 AM 2009. Briefly: As long as one’s choice does not interfere with other people’s rights then an individual should be given the right to choose what they want to do, keeping in mind that the choice one makes could be a wrong choice, but nevertheless, should not be forced into doing otherwise.

    Hello Mrs Susie, and good evening,Thank you for replying to my post and providing me with the references to your statements. I have visited those websites and read the articles there, and acknowledge that there is a lot of injustice going on here to women, though we might not agree on the extent of this injustice or how deep-rooted it is, and some of the other bloggers might no agree with me on the root cause of this problem, which I still insist is the mentality of most men in this country and their chauvinistic concepts towards women. Nevertheless, there's a lot of injustice going on in this country not only to women, but also to many expatriates and to children too. Many would not dare to raise this topic I’m going to mention: it would be interesting to see an article exposing what I call ‘the slavery of the 21st Century’ which continues to be practiced here in this country, and is locally known as ‘kafala’, a word which means sponsorship. To briefly define this term, when a non-Saudi wants to come and work or live here in the Kingdom, he needs to come either under the responsibility of a Saudi citizen, who becomes the expatriate's sponsor, or under a company. This kafala system practically makes many unfortunate expatriate workers, whether they are men or women, into slaves for the person who is sponsoring them, or at least the sponsor reserves the right to act in such a manner towards his sponsorees; thus we find employees who are not paid for months at a time, we find Filipino maids who are treated less than dirt, we find some expats are simply disposed out of the country once their sponsor has no need for them any more, and we find successful businesses established and flourished by expatriate management and ownership, just to find their businesses are simply fully taken over by their sponsor and, if the going gets tough, end up being deported with absolutely nothing – their so-called sponsors devour everything for themselves. I remember the case of a Ukrainian lady who was denied the right to return home by her employer, and was only able to leave after two years when she tricked them into letting here travel to Dubai for a few days with her newly-wed Syrian husband for a business trip. Naturally she never returned. That's just the tip of the iceberg; there are so many stories to be told about injustice practiced against the not-so-well-off expatriates. Another controversial topic which must be addressed is the on-going abuse of children which takes place at some of the schools here. I have witnessed such incidents first-hand; also have been told of many, many more incidents which are simply appalling and shocking.

    On the topic of abayas (i.e. black cloak Muslim woman wear) and headscarf, I recommend everyone reading this tonight to watch this short video explaining the wisdom of the modest dress code of Islam (i.e. hijab):
    http://www.youtubeislam.com/video/3230/MailBag-Why-do-Muslim-women-have-to-coverRegards.

    Written by a humble dweller of this costal metropolis dubbed “Jedda”

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  125. Thank you so much for your post! I lovelovelove learning about Middle Eastern culture, and you gave me a lot to think about.

    I've been studying violence against women recently, and it's startling even here in the U.S. how women are often featured in advertisements which compare them to animals, making them objects or somehow less than human.

    Men are encouraged to be violent and aggressive from a young age. Before puberty, the hormone levels of boys and girls are exactly the same, yet boys are more aggressive.

    Making women seem less than human mixed with the encouragement of violence is definitely not a good thing, and it seems as if the situation is similar in Saudi Arabia.

    Anyway, I'm sure I will be thinking about your post for a long while, so thank you again for sharing!

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  126. @Jedda dweller - thanks for your reply to my comment :) I would never begrudge somebody from wearing an abaya here in Canada, that is their choice, and we should all honour that.

    @Elyse - Agreed. We as women do face gender issues as well, this is a topic that is not limited to Saudi Arabia. This is including potential 'glass ceilings' at work, and statistics show that women get paid less for the exact same jobs. Sad thing is, we could complain about men's attitudes all we want, but womens' attitudes need to change as well. I read an interesting article in one of my classes about a study done in elementary classrooms. The researchers monitored teachers who posed questions to the class and then picked responses from the class - most of the time, teachers (even FEMALE teachers) would call upon boys over the girls, including one instance where a girl had risen her hand in class for quite awhile, but the teacher picked the boy in the back of the class who was stretching and didn't have a response! I think the human race, overall, needs to enlighten themselves a bit, not just those members in Saudi Arabia.

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  127. @Jeddah dweller--Thank you for pointing this out. The non-skilled and barely skilled workers from third world countries in particular have horrific experiences in the Gulf countries. But it is all part of the same problem--until all people have equal protection under the law there will be varying levels of repression to outright slavery.

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  128. Thanks to all the commenters. Please remember to be respectful and make your points without insulting. Sometimes sarcasm can be misinterpreted as being rude, so please try to remain civil and objective. Thanks!

    To JeddahDweller - Thanks for bringing up the issue of foreign domestics here. I know about the problem and not enough to post about it. I have been in other Saudi homes and have witnessed the way maids are treated by the family, down to a 2 year old. It is shameful how disrespectful they can be in treating another human being - and I find that this is so far from Islamic behavior that it really miffs me. I know of many maids who are here on a 2yr contract, get absolutely no days off, and sleep in quarters that are big enough only for a twin bed.

    To CubanInLondon - I really appreciate your comment so much. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

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  129. Hi Susie,

    I only say this with sincere concern for you since you are now an American woman living in the KSA. If it were me and I wanted to blog about these issues I would do it anonomously. I'm very afraid that a post like this could come back to hit you in the face. Were American woman and used to freedom of expression but your in Saudi now & if they wont let women drive they wont take kindly to your sentiments. You could be labeled or gain a bad reputation. Thats part of why your husband insists you veil. Conforming is VERY important there. It's ALL about conforming. And here you are with a pic of yourself unveiled next to the one where you are veiled. I'm seriously concerned about God knows who might get offended by this. Your an excellent writer and you find yourself in a unique position to share interesting aspects of Saudi with other Americans. Why dont you take the success of this blog and query The New Yorker or The Washington Post with an idea for your own column. I think a lot of people would be interested. You could write pieces on how your own life has changed now that you are living an Islamic life despite not being a Muslim! How do you get around now Susie now that you dont drive? Stuff like that. ~Love your writing!

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  130. Dear Susie,

    I see you distinguish yourself as an American woman living in Saudi Arabia. But, has it occured to you that your a Saudi woman now? You wear the veil and you can not do any of the the things you speak of in your post. You can not drive,etc. You are marganalized as well by virtue of being a woman in the KSA.

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  131. Dear Susie --

    Anony 6:56pm has a point. I am praying for your safety!!

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  132. I really do appreciate your comments and concerns for me - but I am not saying anything new that hasn't been said or written about before. There are many women here who want to drive and want more rights and have voiced their feelings about it.
    The first year or so of being here was exciting and new. I still find it exciting, but the limitations put on all women here make me crave the freedom I had in the states to do what I wanted, when I wanted. I don't have that here and I think our voices should be heard.
    I will not live in fear - but unfortunately I see that many women here do...
    I don't feel afraid and if something were to happen to me because of my speaking out, I would hope that it would encourage more women to let their voices be heard.
    Thanks again.

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  133. Susie's message is on the mark. Check out http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7&section=0&article=122117&d=2&m=5&y=2009 for an affirmation of her views.

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  134. You said (And this is exactly the way the men here want it to be).I am a Saudi and I don't want saudi woman to be in the hide .I want to see my daughter a doctor .Many Saudi men here don't want women in the hide..They are may be a minority but it is a growing minority..I hope one day will come when Saudi men and women work side by side,and Saudi women don't get the harrasement she is getting right now..Thank you for shedding light on a very important issue.

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  135. To this "anon" and others who think like them:
    The good thing about the so called west is the freedom to choose. It's easy to be good if you're confined at home. Freedom brings responsibility, and it's something every human being should be entitled to. Even the freedom to make mistakes. Your kind of protection sounds like slavery to me.

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  136. To T ALM - Thank you so much for the link. This article is a glaring example which totally supports this post. It's such a shame.

    To FreeSpirit - Thank you for coming forward as a Saudi and telling us how you really feel. Change cannot come until more voices are heard.

    To Nuri - You are exactly right. Thanks for your comment.

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  137. It really frustrates me how Saudi Arabia calls it self a Muslim country yet it dismisses a lot of Islamic laws. Islam granted women freedom and equality in a balanced matter. Khadija, the first wife of the prophet PBUH, was a successful business woman. She had people working for her.
    I appreciate you bringing the topic again. and I hope people can learn how to discuss such matters and provide innovative solutions.

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  138. To:Susie of Arabia
    Don't worry Susie .I came here looking for some inspiration .I put it on my mind decades ago to see that my wife , daughter and sisters live happy lives .Not only that .Because I am an engineer I want to see better cities ,cleaner street ,and more beautiful buildings around .To reach to the first goal which is more important than walls and concrete .We need to hear more of you ladies expressing themselves and wanting to have a change in this country .A change that will allow women dream come true .let's hope that this one day will ultimately happen sometimes soon .I talk all the time and whenver possible to members of my family and friends everywhere about that wee need to understand religion better in a way that will allow ladies in Saudi to have what they want and what they need and to have a progress.. I write to local newspaper expressing positive thoughts ..We can't wait any longer .The clock is ticking against our side ..People visit us from all around the world and find it hard to live here.Why!!.This is just unfair ..We got the money of all the world and yet we can't make people in this land happy ..That is just unfair..Susie. Keep writing . I love what you do .

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  139. I haven't read all these comments but I do have serious reservations with your post.

    "Saudi women are either kept hidden at home or hidden in public beneath loose fitting black cloth, cloaking them from head to toe. They are invisible. They are unapproachable. They are inaccessible. And this is exactly the way the men here want it to be."

    I am a woman, I cover, I veil, I have a respectable IT job, I am educated, and while I agree that life would be much better if I were allowed to drive, I fail to see how being beneath loose fitting black cloth can be equated as being "invisible", "unapproachable", and so on and so forth.

    Where I work, we ARE segregated, but I am still one of the most important people in the IT department. I've been given all the facilities required for required communication, so I'm not "cut off" from the good old boys. My dad works at a government hospital. He too has female co-workers, architects and engineers.

    It is beyond me why people assume that being "cloaked" is some kind of "oppression". I do it out of choice, not because any "men" wanted me to do it. I do it and I feel liberated, because when I progress, I am respected for my brains and personality. When your women make it to the top, how many of them have to fight the stereotypes that they didn't just make it through by their looks? They still struggle to be respected purely for their SKILLS. Look up the statistics yourself, the good-looking people get more jobs and higher salaries.

    But when *I* get something, I get what I deserve. No judgment calls. No men to doubt how I got there.

    And while some things in Saudi are indeed cultural and not Islamic, a lot of the veiling business IS Islamic, and again, that doesn't mean oppression. That Saudi only just appointed a female is a cultural thing. Otherwise Islam granted women the human rights that any useful citizen deserves. Way back, CENTURIES, before your white women could so much as dream of casting votes, Muslim women were running for government positions, and their voices were so power they directly influenced state decisions without even being part of it.

    And as for why can't Saudi men stop looking at women as sex-objects... while I agree they should get some sense in their perverted heads and stop being the way they are, it's not as if women aren't considered sex objects anyway. Around 70% (if I remember correctly) of rapes in the world don't happen by random strangers - they're usually among people who've already known each other. And... (I think it was) 60% of people in the same office have been involved in extra-marital affairs. Where does this happen? Oh yes of course - where the workplaces aren't segregated...

    And just because a woman cannot be seen in the media doesn't mean she can't do anything worthwhile. I write. And when I do that, my objective is to get my opinions across, to have my ideas heard and valued. My objective is not that you see how I look while I do it. I'm not in the least hindered by a cloak, or by segretation. In fact - actual statistics again - girls who grow up in single-sex colleges are known to be more successful and more confident than girls who study at co-ed institutes.

    Women being unseen, protected, loved and respected for their true selves, is not oppression. Women being judged everywhere they go, sized up and down and checked out and treated as objects, plastered on billboards for as long as they're young and beautiful and then forgotten like trash, being judged for superficial factors that don't even last and only respected by a very select few people for what they REALLY are, THAT is oppression of the worst kind.

    If you want to talk about certain other legal rights in this country, like female business ownership.. yeah that might be a REAL issue you could cover.

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  140. um...excuse the typos above.

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  141. To Nourah - I find it confusing how many seem to pick and choose which Islamic laws they follow, and then all the different interpretations of those laws run the gamut as well. Thanks for your comment.

    To FreeSpirit - I thank you again for your input. I wish more Saudi men were like you.

    To Anon - To me, a woman who is covered in black from head to toe has a wall up, and it makes me feel that she is invisible, unapporachable, and inaccessible. I loved reading your response and I thank you for speaking up. I would like to run your comment as a post, as I think you explained yourself very well and I'm sure many other Saudi women concur with what you said. I do want your voice to be heard.

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  142. Open Letter to Saudis
    by Tanya C. Hsu, Arab News

    Having returned from the Kingdom, four weeks in an abaya and hijab, I am angry and frustrated. As an analyst specializing in Saudi Arabia I knew much of what to expect, thus covering and not being able to drive were nonissues. Landing in Jeddah I dropped ten degrees body temperature switching from linen to an abaya. Four weeks later, I flew through to Atlanta without removing my abaya, not only to test American reactions but because it was comfortable and practical. In Riyadh’s Bedu Souk I added a burqa and realized, for the first time in my adult life, men spoke directly to me rather than to a physique. That is respect.

    Having completed my book on the Kingdom, I had been invited to the Saudi American Interactive Dialogue in Jeddah. Staying to gather material for a second book, I met with people from all walks of life: Rich, poor, mothers, working women; the highly successful, the unemployed, royalty, Bedouin market sellers, and those in between. I met with Saudis by birth, Saudis by choice, and foreigners. I lived with Saudi families, those with domestic help and those without. All were open and eager to share their opinions. I traveled freely across the country, an “Arab” woman alone. Fed monumental amounts of food in Saudi homes nightly, unable to escape such generous hospitality, I never witnessed men separate from women. In Riyadh I used a Saudi friend’s office for a fortnight, was treated equally and was privy to top-level business discussions. Thus began my irritation.

    I had expected to return to the US, defensive posture prepared. Since Sept. 11, I have tried in vain to explain the Kingdom to a country reluctant to understand or listen, have been the target of attacks, and have had professional difficulty for insisting on clarity on Saudi issues. It is acceptable in the US to be anti-war, anti-Bush, or support the Palestinians; it is not acceptable on either side of the political spectrum to be “pro-Saudi”. That is “sleeping with the enemy” or “hero worship”. Little of Saudi Arabia is covered in the West other than trade, oil, and proclamations of reform. Sadly, within the Kingdom and despite access to satellite television, newspapers and the Internet, even Jarir Bookstore has yet to catch up: Only travel and photography books, or historical biographies of Gertrude Bell and Harry Philby were available. Not permitting political material available to a hungry public belies logic at this stage.

    I experienced few inconveniences. Prayer time forces the habit of pausing. Time passes differently in the United States as we race from work to school to the grocery store to after-school activities to dinner, housecleaning and laundry, finally collapsing in exhaustion having barely spoken to our children eating in separate rooms at different times. Families walk together along the Jeddah corniche, flying kites or riding donkeys, barbecues permeating the air — vastly different to the deafening X-rated rap music that invades main streets in America as teens cruise.

    So why am I angry?

    During all my conversations one question remained unanswered. When asked, What makes you proud to be Saudi, “being Muslim” or “being Arab” was as common a reply as “being the home of the Two Holy Cities”. One can easily define Palestinian anger, Iraqi angst, or Syrian character, yet I received nothing on Saudi national patriotism. Can you not see?

    For years you have publicly apologized for comparatively low levels of violence, lack of reform, or the slow pace of change. Repeatedly I heard the despair and cynicism blinding you to what is happening in front of you: Palpable change, construction growth, new institutions, reform efforts, and the mutawa. You have much to be proud of, but your politeness and kindness allows the West to trample you, naming you a threat to “democracy” and the world.

    You cannot let this continue. Pre-empt the increase in anti-Saudi hostility and stop re-emphasizing your weaknesses. You are a dignified people, so take pride in your country in action, not just spirit. Explain to the world how you respect women, how safe and free from crime you are, and how family takes priority. Demand how the US, world leader in murder, rape and domestic violence, dare accuse you of human rights abuses. Ask how Americans can defend their preferred method of capital punishment by electrocuting women, minors and the mentally handicapped. How, if democracy includes the export of the largest pornographic industry throughout the world, can they judge the Kingdom for its restrictions? Why can a Saudi leave his wallet, laptop and digital camera on the front seat of a car, as I did, and return to find everything intact? Americans live in gated subdivisions with security alarms; child molesters roam free in every neighborhood. Half empty compounds in the Kingdom are triple barricaded, one Alkhobar compound protected by five security walls and armored trucks. Murderers don’t return to the scene of their crime, so why such fear? Nuns, priests, Jewish settlers, rabbis and Catholics cover their heads but Saudi women are “oppressed” for such? Why apologize for your rate of progress when it took the United States two hundred years, until 1920, to grant women the right to vote? American women are paid seventy-five cents to the dollar compared to men; the Prophet’s first wife was his employer, a successful and powerful businesswoman.

    Another wife, Aisha, fought in battle alongside men, and Islam forbids racism. How then did it take until 1963 after riots and protests before blacks were granted civil rights, the end to segregation, and freedom? Bias remains rampant and races still do not mix freely.

    Why can the US government attack any Arab nation when not one Arab state has ever threatened America? Is this “democracy”? More importantly, is this what you want?

    Of course, there is much to fix within the Kingdom. All regions rise and fall. There is little difference in the speed of bureaucracy between Saudi Arabia and Sweden or France; ministers settle in to roles of government power and have no desire for change.


    You have a ready-made group available for pressing issues: The mutawa could be assigned to fine dangerous drivers (intent to kill is haraam) or punish anyone seen littering: It is a disgrace to the religion, the environment and people’s health.

    Globalization and technology are here to stay, so as Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab brought reform for the sake of unity in the eighteenth century, again use ijtihad (individual interpretation) and contextualization to unite for the sake of the Kingdom, Islam, and national pride.

    There is indeed something enigmatic about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — perhaps the people, perhaps the history, perhaps the land. Had I the chance to stay I would have searched until I found an answer. A piece of my heart remained in the Kingdom. I can only hope that I may soon return to find out why.

    Tanya C. Hsu is the author of the forthcoming book, “Target: Saudi Arabia”. She may be reached at TanyaHsu@mindspring.com

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  143. What a sad waste of untapped resources, Susie.

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  144. The thing puzzles me > Why expats insist on wearing Abayas in Saudi although laws allow other forms of modest clothes and coverings such as the Pakisatni punjabee(very beautiful , very comfortable , comes with all sorts of colors ) but expats insist on Abayas thing...why ?What are the roots of the overwhelming spread of Abayas among expat ?
    A Saudi

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  145. I just wanted to say one thing. I am an American revert, not living in Saudi Arabia (yet), and I think people are missing the very important issue being addressed. First and foremost, anyone with any true understanding of Islaam (Muslim or non-Muslim) knows that some things are religious and some are cultural. In Islaamic history, women fought in wars, tended to the wounded, issued religious verdicts...However, society today is not like it was then. When speaking about the freedoms afforded to Western women, also consider all of the corruption and sickness that has accompanied it...increased prostitution, fatherless children, increased gang activity, hoards of immoral behavior (yes those barely clad 'liberated' women). This is not progression in any sense of the world. We have to know the difference between oppression and protection. Yes, there are people (Muslim and non-Muslim) who are very oppressive people. It always amazes me how Westerners have soooo much to say when they see "oppression" in Islaamic countries, but look into the Western societies and see it as well, and no one's making the men stand up and take responsibility for the women. Yes, there are many things that could be changed in Saudi or any other country for that matter, but at least they are trying to avoid the poor, 'liberated' influences that the West has to offer.

    Just step back and judge Islaam from the right perspective...learn the history of women in Islaam...and then look at your own homes (figuratively, of course, not literally) and ask yourselves, "How can judge others when there is corruption and immorality all around me?"

    I am not writing this to offend anyone, so if I have, I seek your forgiveness. I just think people spend too much time looking at and worrying about us "poor, oppressed, Muslim women" and not enough time working on their own individual situations. Oppression is not ok, regardless of who the oppressor is. Let's talk about solutions and not be so quick to criticize other nations. As Westerners, we always tend to think we live on the greener side...I beg to differ.

    Respectfully,

    Tonia

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  146. Quite a forthright blog, Susie. I am not a Muslim and living in neither West Asia or in the West, but have some knowledge of Islam and have seen parts of the West. Yes I am against restriction of women as Susie says and I am against veiling too. But it's not as black-and-white situation as that. Being forced to work is as oppressive as being forced to stay at home - if a woman demands that she be maintained by the man in her house, it's the duty of the man to maintain her, since in many Asian cultures, a women is not bound to work - to expect that she must go out and work may be right in certain cultures in the world, but it need not be so everywhere. The basic question is - who decides whether a woman should work or stay at home - does she decide it herself or does the society decide it for her and expect her to follow suit? I feel true freedom means that it should be a woman's right to decide whether she should stay at home or whether she should work - without any external pressures of family or the society. Yes veiling is oppressive by all standards and in all cultures. But the excessive public exposure of a woman's body in the West too is an example of treating the woman as a sex object and the woman is expected to some extent to conform to this image there. While veiling should be made illegal everywhere, I again think it should be a woman's right to decide how much she wants to expose and how much she should cover in public.

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  147. About the First Lady of the US having a dress stylist - well dspite having a law degree, she is not practising law and is really dressing up and modelling her life activities to be suitable for her husband's life and career and doesn't have a free choice about it - which is exactly what Saudi women are doing - in a different form of course. And I do think Obama's election to Presidentship is not reall an issue of racial equality - it's more a disguised issue of gender inequality in the US - much as they may be opposed to the idea of a Black president, Americans would rather have a Black man as President than any woman - Black or White. How many centuries before a woman can become the President of USA? How many centuries before a Black woman can become the President of USA? How many centuries before a Native American - man or woman and especially woman - can become the President of USA? The answer is blowing in the wind!

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  148. I agree that the election of Obama had as much to do with sexism as it did with "transcending race". One lesson I took from the 2008 elections was that it is more acceptable to be sexist than racist, and more acceptable to be anti-Muslim/islamophobic, and anti-Arab than to be anti-Black. US history has made African-Americans both targetted and protected whereas to date Muslims and Arabs are far less protected. False accusations of racism were used to devastating effect, in terms of free speech, debate and political process (Bill Clinton being silenced, no one reading the inside of the famous New Yorker issue which was highly and accurately critical of Obama's rise in Chicago politics), whereas sexism and islamophobia went unchecked or minimally acknowledged. The specific Black man chosen--raised by whites in a white world yet benefitting from affirmative action--speaks volumes to how equal the US is, both in the positive and negative senses.

    I am happy a Democrat won, respect Obama's achievements and hope his presidency is a successful one, but there is no doubt that a man is still more acceptable in American politics than a woman, and that the US falls behind other democracies in terms of the number of women in elected office, and those holding higher, let alone the highest office. One of the best arguments on this is that the electoral system in the US, unlike countries with a parliamentary system, makes it harder for women to rise. Hmmmm....says something about the populace everywhere.

    This is a great post with excellent comments. I didn't weigh in initially because of hijab discussion fatigue. :)

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  149. Thanks Chiara, for your appreciation and very insightful comments about US election above. I wrote the two anonymous posts above yours, but am now writing under the fictitious name Daisy - here and elswhere on this site.

    A Free Spirit, yes, if the Punjabi Salwar Kurta as it is called - if it is allowed as you say, I think it may be worn rather than the Abaya - if one finds the latter uncomfortable. I wrote this in another post in response to On Being Normal - sorry, there I thought it was Susie who wrote that Punjabi dress is allowed. I correct my error here. Susie, I know you said you didn't want to stick out, but we have to respect others' traditions while defending our own individuality. For all you know, once you begin to wear the Punjabi dress, others will follow suit. Perhaps a lot of women there are just waiting for someone to begin the process.

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  150. Daisy--I'm glad to be able to follow your comments better, now that you have a "name". I'm looking forward to your future comments.

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This is my personal blog and therefore it reflects MY personal opinions. If you don't agree with me, that's fine. But if you feel the need to let me know that you don't agree with me, you must do so in a civilized, kind and constructive manner, without namecalling or filthy language, or being rude or offensive. In other words: BE NICE, OR I WILL NOT PUBLISH YOUR COMMENT!