Thursday, December 31, 2015

Share Your Polygyny Story

Are you in a polygamous marriage?  I would like to invite any woman who is or was in a polygamous marriage to share her story anonymously for an upcoming Marie Claire magazine article.  Your identity will be kept strictly confidential.  You can email your polygamy story to me at:  susieofarabia@gmail.com

Please get your polygyny story in to me as soon as you can.  Thanks! 




I'd also like to remind you (women only) to participate in a short online survey about polygyny for the same upcoming Marie Claire magazine article.  

Participants in the survey can be any woman who is or was married to a Saudi man, or any single Saudi woman.  More SAUDI WOMEN, married or single, are needed to participate in this survey, so please share this with any Saudi women you know.  NON-SAUDI WOMEN and WESTERN WOMEN are also welcome to complete the survey.

The survey is quick, easy, and anonymous.  It literally takes one or two minutes to complete.  No personal details about you are required at all and can be taken in English or in Arabic.    

Deadline for the survey is January 5th, 2016.

CLICK HERE to take the survey in ENGLISH.

CLICK HERE to take the survey in ARABIC.

Marie Claire Magazine is a world renowned women's periodical, which focuses on women's interests like health, beauty, and lifestyle.  It first appeared in France in 1937 and today has many international editions.

LIKE Marie Claire Arabia on Facebook

 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Marie Claire Arabia Magazine Survey on Polygyny

Please share this post with ALL women who are married, or were married, to a Saudi man.  SINGLE women are also invited to participate as well.  ALL SAUDI WOMEN are encouraged to participate in this survey, as well as non-Saudi and Western women.

I have been contacted by Marie Claire Arabia Magazine regarding a survey on polygyny to be published in a future article in early 2016.  

Polygyny is the practice of men marrying more than one wife at a time, which is allowed in Islam.

  
Participants in the survey can be any woman who is or was married to a Saudi man, or any single woman who might consider marrying a Saudi man.  SAUDI WOMEN, married or single, are encouraged to participate. NON-SAUDI WOMEN and WESTERN WOMEN are also invited to complete the survey.

This survey is totally anonymous and doesn't even require an email address or any contact information.  

The questions are about your feelings regarding polygyny / multiple marriages.



There is a survey version in Arabic for Saudi or Arabic-speaking women, and there is another form in English for Western or English-speaking women. 

The one page survey has just 10 simple questions and just takes a minute or two to complete.  

Deadline to submit your answers for the survey is January 5th, 2016.

Please take a moment to complete this survey - thanks!

CLICK HERE to take the survey in ENGLISH.

CLICK HERE to take the survey in ARABIC.

Marie Claire Magazine is a world renowned women's periodical, which focuses on women's interests like health, beauty, and lifestyle.  It first appeared in France in 1937 and today has many international editions.

LIKE Marie Claire Arabia on Facebook



Saturday, December 19, 2015

Women Making History in Saudi Arabia

Saturday, December 12, 2015, will be remembered for years to come as a truly amazing day for women in Saudi Arabia as two incredible things happened.

#1 - Saudi women were able to vote as well as run for public office for the first times in their lives.

#2 - 8,264 women gathered together in the capital city of Riyadh to break the existing world record for the largest human awareness ribbon formation.

A young Saudi woman casts her vote for the first time in her life.


SAUDI ELECTIONS:

Saudi women were able to claim victory, winning 20 elected positions even though registered female voters (130,000) accounted for only a mere 10 per cent of the country's male electorate (1.35 million).  It wasn't easy for women to make it to the polls.  There were many obstacles in the way.

In order to register to vote, women were required to provide national ID cards (many women do not have them), proof of residence (almost all Saudi women live with their legal male guardians, and residency documentation is in the man's name), plus there were limited times to register and limited knowledge by district clerks to help women with the registration process.  Another huge problem was that voting was only allowed on one day, and inconsiderate and impractical policy in a world where women cannot drive.  The cards were definitely stacked against women from the get go.

Saudi female candidate Naseema Assada  (Photo: NPR)


For those Saudi women who wished to run for elected office, a few more new rules were enacted which made their campaigns even more difficult.  Gender segregation is strictly enforced here, so female candidates' campaign sites had to be for women only.  They were also not allowed to interact or speak directly with men in an effort to gain votes, and they could not display their photos in their promotional materials (neither could men).  In addition the Grand Mufti (the country's highest ranking religious leader) spoke out against women participating in the elections and running for office - the general consensus among many being that women belong at home and not in public life.  This resulted in some backlash against women, especially in tribal areas. 

Prior to the elections, some women (many of whom are writers and activists) were disqualified from running for office, with no reasons provided and no time to challenge their dismissal.   Female candidates accounted for 1/6 of the total candidates.  Despite all these obstacles, on voting day female voters turned out in an astonishing 80% rate in many districts, leaving the men's turnout average in the dust.  And while women clearly had a very slim chance of winning at all, another surprise is that some of the victorious female candidates were elected in tribal areas.   Even though the elected positions are all at the local level (city councils) and naysayers express doubts that women's participation signals any real change at all and is nothing more than window dressing, many women are excited at the prospect of finally having a voice, as little as that may be.  It is a step in the right direction, even though this might be considered taking baby steps toward women achieving equality in this society.

Many Saudi women took their kids along to the voting stations to witness the historic event.


WORLD RECORD PINK RIBBON EVENT:

This past weekend I traveled to Riyadh to participate in my 2nd Guinness World Record breaking event - forming the world's largest human awareness ribbon chain highlighting the fight against breast cancer.  I had previously participated in the very first breast cancer record breaking event in Jeddah back in 2010.

The event was held at the football stadium of Princess Nora University, a public women's institution of higher learning.  The final attendance count was a little short of the goal of 10,000 participants, but none-the-less, it was still enough to set the new world record.  I was part of a group of about 10 women, including among others, my friend and fellow blogger Laura of Blue Abaya; human rights activist and photographer Samia El Moslimany; TV presenters and sisters Cyma and Nihad Aziz; and architect Anna Laura Petrucci, who is herself a breast cancer survivor.  We were all seated in the VIP section, rubbing elbows with at least four Saudi princesses, who are all greatly involved in supporting breast cancer awareness.

Photo: Edited and Graphics Added by Laura of Blue Abaya


I have to say that this event, called 10KSA, was so much more pleasant than the previous event in Jeddah because of the weather.  Under the guidance of Princess Reema, it was obvious that much was learned from the first event to make this one run much smoother.  It was well run and organized and didn't seem to take nearly as long to form the ribbon and set the record as it did before in Jeddah.

10KSA official scarf designs 2015


All women who came were provided with pink fuchsia scarves to wear.  One of the rules for the world record is that all participants must be wearing the same color.  There were four different designs that I saw - the main body of the scarves were the solid pink and the ends had different designs that were chosen from entries in a contest.   The designs all incorporated Arabian influence with the breast cancer theme.

Witnessing the sea of women outfitted in matching pink, coming together for such a worthy cause was extremely exciting and meaningful.  Seeing the pride, motivation, and determination of the women of all ages in Saudi Arabia was quite a profound and inspiring experience.

The excitement builds as thousands of women wait for the Guinness judge's decision.  (Photo: Blue Abaya)


Now just think about both of these history making events for a moment.  In a country where women are still denied the right to drive cars themselves, logistically speaking, both of these accomplishments required immense planning, determination, and effort.  Yet both of these events were tremendous successes.  It just goes to show that when Saudi women put their minds to something, you better get out of their way!

P.S. - I almost forgot to mention that the worldwide transport company Uber provided FREE transportation to the women of Saudi Arabia on that day if they were going to vote or were attending the Pink Ribbon event.  So a big "Thank You to Uber" for their support and generosity in making these events successful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shameful! Jeddah Crippled by Rain Yet Again

It rarely rains in Jeddah, but when it does, it reeks havoc on this city of almost 4 million people.  Schools are canceled.  We lose internet service.  The streets flood.  Hundreds of homes and cars are damaged.  And people get electrocuted or drown - and some die.  The municipality has absolutely no drainage system.  There is no where for the rain water to go.  It's ridiculous that a city of this size is literally crippled and brought to its knees from a little rain.  Promises have been made for years that this issue has been addressed, yet every time it rains, it's the same old thing once again.



Saudi Arabia imports unskilled laborers from poor countries to do cheap and shoddy construction work and if the job is not closely supervised, as many are not, the quality suffers, of course.  It may look pretty good at first glance, but it's always a shock when that first rain comes.



The quality of construction work in this region would be shocking to most of you.  Can you believe that it is not standard procedure to seal all doors and windows?  So with all the dry dust and sandstorms, you can imagine how filthy homes get here if the sealing is not taken care of.  But when it rains, doors and windows leak and it's a mess, not to mention how it ruins the walls and finishes as well as creating mold problems.  People move into nice newly constructed apartments or villas, and then when the first rain comes, they are shocked at the damage and mess. 


To alleviate the horrendous traffic problems in this congested city, a series of tunnels and bridges have been built to replace major intersections and roundabouts.  But trying to solve the traffic problem this way has created an even worse problem when it rains, as the tunnels fill up with rain water.  Many people have died in the tunnels in the past few years.



My husband and I spent several hours yesterday bailing out at least 15 big buckets of water from our stairwell to the rooftop. It's a large area that has windows all around the top and is covered by one of those fiberglass outdoor tent style roofs.  None of it is sealed.  The leaking happens every time it rains here.  For some reason my husband won't have the roof replaced or sealed up.  Thankfully he did have the doors and windows to our flat sealed up after the first rain we experienced when we moved in. 



I lived in Florida for many years, where there are hurricanes and sometimes, even normally, it rains for days on end - and I cannot believe that something has not been done about this situation in Jeddah.  It's shameful for the citizens of Jeddah in this oil rich county to be made to suffer like this with such crappy infrastructure that can't handle a little rain.

I did not take most of these photos (many I found online at this website), but many of them were taken not far from where we live.  It rained for 1-2 hours yesterday morning - that's it.










 





































Friday, November 13, 2015

Meet Saudi Arabia's first women election candidates

The following article was published in The Telegraph.UK on Nov. 9, 2015, and was written by Richard Spencer


Their election leaflets cannot contain photographs, and they are not allowed to address men directly at campaign meetings.


But in a breakthrough moment for Saudi Arabia, a country known for neither voting nor female emancipation, the names of first women to nominate themselves as election candidates have been published.


The elections for local councils next month are the third in the nation’s modern history, but the first in which women will be allowed to both vote and stand, under a decree by the late King Abdullah.

Loujain al-Hathloul  


Loujain al-Hathloul spent 73 days in prison after taking part in the campaign to allow women to drive.


Their duties should they win will be the mundane tasks of councils everywhere, such as supervising road maintenance. But the opportunity has been seized by some of the country’s most prominent women’s rights activists, as well by others who see themselves as apolitical but wanting to improve their local community.


More than 1,000 women have nominated themselves across the country, far more than many expected.


“I’m not excited by the idea of winning,” said Loujain al-Hathloul, who earlier this year was released from 73 days in prison after taking part in the campaign to allow women to drive. Now she is Candidate Number 1 for Riyadh District 5. “I’m focussed on increasing the number of women who stand in elections.”


King Abdullah, who died at the age of 91 in January, won a reputation in his later years for increasing opportunities for women in the kingdom, previously notorious as one of the few countries that forces all women to wear the hijab, or headscarf, and requires them to seek permission of their “guardians’ - father, husband or brother - before they travel.


The number of women at university overtook the number of men, while he also ordered that women be allowed to work as shop assistants, since when an estimated hundreds of thousands of women have joined the workforce.


The kingdom has also given 750,000 students scholarship to study abroad in the last decade or so, many of them women, and the change is often most noticed by them when they return.


Haifa al-Halabi 


Haifa al-Hababi has noticed a change in Saudi Arabia


“Since I returned I have worked, I travel, and no-one has ever asked for my permission from a guardian,” said Haifa al-Hababi, an architect who studied and worked in London and Glasgow before returning to Saudi Arabia two years ago.


She is now standing as a candidate for Riyadh District 4, has a column in a local newspaper under hijab-less picture byline and is happy to meet a male journalist at home wearing a teeshirt with the slogan “Punk’s Not Dead”.


Although both women are among those who have studied abroad, they represent different factions. Mrs Hababi, 38, and married to a lawyer, says she is standing to put her architectural principles - that good design is a way of life - into practice.


She sees the campaigns for women driving and to end the guardianship as part of “old generation feminism” that is ceasing to be relevant for the many Saudi women who have education and jobs.


Mrs Hathloul, on the other hand, who is married to one of Saudi Arabia’s best-known comedians, has herself become one of its best-known activists.


She was arrested last year for trying to drive from the United Arab Emirates - where there are many fewer restrictions on women - across the border. This "international" act of civil disobedience was seen as particularly provocative, and she was at one time threatened with terrorism charges.


She says she is able to do what she does only thanks to a liberal father, who has backed her campaign and despite being a former navy officer sat in the passenger seat with her while she broke the law.


The two women also have different attitudes to some of the rules instituted for these elections, including that banning the use of photographs and the one preventing candidates addressing members of the opposite sex.


Both apply to men and women, but for the activists, this is a clever way of discriminating against women while appearing to be equal: if candidates can only effectively campaign in private, that gives the advantage to men who have more opportunities to spread their manifestos through work and social networks.


Mrs Hababi however says the ban on photographs is a good thing - it prevents people advertising their religiosity through the length of their beard, discouraging hardline Islamism.


Nassima Al Sada  


Naseema Assada comes from the minority Shia community


For Naseema Assada, one of nine women among 62 candidates for 12 seats in the eastern town of Qateef, the election is even more sensitive. She comes from the minority Shia community, and Qateef is a hotspot of anti-government Shia demonstrations.


Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, the young protester whose sentence to death by beheading and crucifixion was condemned by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, provoking a row with the Saudi ambassador to London, is also from Qateef.


Her involvement in the women’s driving movement stemmed from her work in publicising cases of arrested protesters.


The protests in Qateef in 2011-12 triggered a government backlash, as did all the events of the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia. A whole swathe of civil society activists were arrested and sentenced to long terms.


“I was interested in human rights first,” Mrs Assada said. “One of our human rights is our political rights, and political rights for women are also very important.”


She has twice been “called in” by police and urged to “speak softly” when it comes to the government.


She admits that in some ways the election is a “play”, as she puts it. Other activists are boycotting them altogether, like Aziza al-Yousef, a veteran feminist. “Things are actually getting worse and worse,” Mrs Yousef said, referring to fears that the new king, Salman, with a reputation as a conservative, will halt his predecessor’s reforms.


“I think we need to change the whole system. We don’t need revolution but we need evolution, to change the structure of government.”


The number of women going to university had just created a “well-educated prison”, she said.


But Mrs Assada said it was still worth participating as a way of showing both men and women what was possible.


“It’s just baby steps, and the people want more and more,” she said. “It’s not that they are giving us our rights. But it’s not too hard a way to educate women and people in general throughout society what our rights are.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

BBC Radio: Do We Need to Rethink Our Relationship with Saudi Arabia?


This morning I was contacted by BBC radio to participate in a radio program entitled "Do We Need to Rethink our Relationship with Saudi Arabia?"  The hour long show will only be available to listen to online for 28 days, so if you are interested in learning about Saudi culture from Westerners' perspectives, do tune in.

Susie in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2015
 
Guests on the program presented their personal experiences of living in or visiting Saudi Arabia.   One topic discussed is the case of UK pensioner Karl Andree, age 74, who has spent over a year in a Saudi prison since being arrested by Saudi religious police for transporting homemade wine in his car.  Alcoholic beverages are strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia and punishments are harsh.  Andree has been sentenced to 360 lashes.  It should be noted that Andree has lived in Saudi Arabia for 25 years, so he was well aware of Saudi's prohibition on alcohol when he broke the law.

One guest related his disturbing confrontations with the Saudi religious police during his visits to KSA for Hajj, the religious pilgrimage all Muslims are required to make during their lifetime.  

Other topics touched upon during the program include human rights, public beheadings, women's issues, culture shock, and hypocrisy. 

I was the final guest on the show and I can be heard at about 53 minutes into the show.  Please CLICK HERE to listen to the program, but be sure to do it before November 10, 2015.






Monday, October 12, 2015

"Historic Jeddah" Documentary Film Trailer





"Historic Jeddah" is a documentary film produced and directed by Jameelah Rose del Prado Liness, a Filipino filmmaker and film instructor who was born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Her documentary is the only film from Saudi Arabia chosen as an official selection in the upcoming International Film Festival Manhattan from October 22 through 25 in New York City.

Her film is up for two awards: The Best Documentary Film and The Best Documentary (Short) Film. Another category she is hoping to win is the Most Popular Film in IFFM.

In order for her film to win in the Most Popular Film category at the film festival, you can help by watching her trailer.  The more times you watch it, the more votes her film will get.  If you do watch it more than once, please Refresh your Page each time first instead of just hitting Replay.

As you can imagine, film-making in Saudi Arabia is not an easy undertaking.  There are strict privacy laws which, if violated, can quickly land one in prison, not to mention governmental bureaucracy and red tape.  And just being a female in Saudi Arabia adds yet another layer of complicated cultural issues.  Throw into the mix the fact that there are no public movie theaters in Saudi Arabia (although the latest movies can be watched on pirated DVDs bought off the street) and one can see that there are many obstacles to overcome if someone wishes to produce a film within Saudi Arabia.

Here is what Jameelah had to say about her experiences with film-making in KSA -
When I was doing my thesis film, I chose to do a documentary. I flew to Jeddah to shoot my film. I had nobody to help me. I had no crew. It was just me and my mom. It was very challenging and rewarding, but at the same time uncomfortable. I remember that I had to pause/stop recording every time people came into the frame, especially if it was a woman. I was uncomfortable because I always had to look and check if it was okay for me to shoot or not. My mom would tell me if somebody was coming, and I would have to stop recording. My mom also carried some of my equipment while I filmed.
It was particularly very tough shooting outdoors. I am always concerned about whether someone might take my camera from me and confiscate it, or worse, smash it. This resulted in my outdoor footage becoming unsteady and very short. I had a difficult time editing it. I have already made 3 documentaries about Saudi Arabia.
The first time I ever watched in a movie theater was when I first went to the US in June 2011. The first movie I ever watched in a movie theater was Harry Potter the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I was 18 at that time. The second time I watched inside a movie theater was a year after that. I'm not really used to going to the movies and somehow, growing up in Saudi Arabia, I prefer to watch movies on my laptop or on TV.  I have only been to a movie theater twice in my life at the moment. It is quite ironic since I make films and yet I don't really go to the movies frequently.


Jameelah is a graduate of the New York Film Academy in New York City.  At the moment, she is a freelance filmmaker doing production works in Jeddah and she also teaches film-making privately.  She offers a 4 week or 8 week film-making program.  If you have any inquiries regarding her classes, you can email her at :   jameelah.lineses@nyfa.edu 

Friday, July 3, 2015

From the Kitchen to the Podium

JEDDAH ELITE LADIES TOASTMASTERS 

by Rayeesa Tabassum


This year, our city, Jeddah, had the privilege of hosting the Saudi Arabian Toastmasters Annual Conference: SATAC 2015.  It was a grand affair, bringing together the best speaking talents from all over the country. Abdullah Al Jurfi emerged as the winner in International Speech Category. He will go on to represent Saudi Arabia at Toastmasters International Convention in Las Vegas, in August, to win the coveted title of  “The World Champion of Public Speaking.”


Jeddah Elite ladies toastmasters pose with their trophies at their club contest.


Saudi Arabia is also called district 79 and boasts of over 200 clubs, including Arabic, English and other languages too. There are approximately 40 clubs in Jeddah alone. Among them are corporate as well as community clubs and a few exclusive ladies clubs too. Jeddah Elite ladies toastmasters club prides in being the first ladies only club in the city and has been instrumental in bringing women from the kitchen to the podium. 

Founded by Shanti Lakshman, an experienced toastmaster, in June 2013, it won the prestigious president distinguished club award in the very first year of its formation. This year too, the club shone in the division level conference with its members winning 2nd prize in each of table topics, humorous speech and evaluation contests. 

Ladies from different countries and professions meet on alternate Thursdays, in Aziziyah, to improve their communication and leadership skills. A general meeting has three components: Prepared Speeches, Evaluations and Table topics.  In the first session, members present prepared speeches based on the projects from “Competent Communication Manual” provided by Toastmasters International. Each speaker is assigned an evaluator, who provides constructive and helpful feedback to the speaker to improve her speech. 

In table topics, a “topic” is given on the spot and members are required to speak about it for 2-3 minutes.  At every meeting, members take up different leadership roles such as Toastmaster of the Evening, Table Topics Master, General Evaluator, Grammarian, Timer and Ah Counter. The whole educational session enables members to improve various skills like impromptu speaking, listening, evaluation, providing feedback, organizing and time management.

Jeddah Elite ladies club has made stars out of homemakers. Members with English as their second language have used this platform to gain confidence in their spoken English skills. TM Ajitha Saleem, a non-native English speaker, began her journey of Toastmasters, with table topics speech in her mother tongue. In just one year, she has transformed from hesitant, nervous speaker to humorous speech champion.  

At Jeddah Elite Ladies Toastmaster meetings, learning takes place in a fun, comfortable setting. Ladies in Jeddah who are interested are welcome to attend a meeting to get a first hand experience of toastmasters.  To find out more information, please use any of these ways to contact Jeddah Elite Ladies Toastmasters:  

Twitter        :  @jedeliteladies_
Email          :   jeddah.elite.ladies@gmail.com
Facebook   :   JeddahEliteLadiesTM

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Message To All Collectors of Censored Music CDs

Since I first wrote about a censored Katy Perry music CD that I had purchased for my son in March 2009, I have received dozens of requests from total strangers around the world asking me to acquire Saudi censored CDs for them.  I had politely declined until Marco from Italy emailed me no less than 18 times over a period of a couple months, literally begging me to help him acquire a censored Britney Spears CD from here in Saudi Arabia.  Any Britney Spears CD would do, he said, as long as it was censored.  Against my better judgment, I finally told Marco that I would try since he was so persistent and had seemed so desperate and sincere.


I had told Marco that it wouldn't be easy for me to get down to a record shop in the first place, since women can't drive here in KSA and I don't have a driver.  The few record shops that I know of aren't exactly within walking distance either.  I also told him I wasn't going to make a special trip just to get him a CD and that I wasn't making any promises. 

Marco had told me that he was a "collector."  Several weeks after he initially asked me, I happened to be in the same mall as a record shop, so I decided to go in there and see if I could find what he wanted.  I found one Britney Spears CD that had been censored - it was censored with a red marker painted over her exposed skin.  The CD cost me 60 Saudi Riyals, which is about $16 US.  When I got home, I immediately emailed Marco with the good news and asked him for his address so I could figure out how much the shipping would cost.


He seemed excited and asked if I could send him a photo of the CD, so I did.  And then ... after weeks of bugging me in 18 different emails about getting him a Britney Spears CD ... there was nothing but silence from Marco.  So I emailed him again.  I was miffed that he had not answered me after a few days or sent me his address.  And now I had laid out my own money for a CD that I would have never bought in the first place (sorry, Britney!) and there was only a three day return policy at the store.  And if I needed to return it, I would have to arrange for transportation to make another trip back to the store.  I was not happy!  I was feeling duped and felt I had been taken advantage of.

Three days later, I heard back from Marco:  "I'm so sorry but the CD isn't official with write pen on it.  I have this CD.  I'm so sorry."


I was fuming!  What kind of a person imposes on a total stranger who lives in another country where women cannot drive and convinces her to make a purchase of an item she would never ever buy - and then says "I already have it?"  "Not Official?" Are you %@#*$^% kidding me?  I write a blog about living in Saudi Arabia.  I don't make any money off of it.  And I certainly don't operate a business in which I go on wild goose chases to fulfill stupid people's wishes. If Marco had even the slightest modicum of decency at all, knowing all the trouble I had gone through to get that stupid CD for him (sorry again, Britney!), he should have just kept his stupid mouth shut and graciously paid me for the merchandise he requested.

So, to all you "Collectors" out there who keep writing to ask me to get some certain artist's censored CD from Saudi Arabia, please stop.  The answer is NO!  And you have Marco the Inconsiderate Idiot A$$hole to thank for it.  And besides, according to Marco, the Saudi method of censorship with marking pens isn't "official" anyway!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My InterNations Interview

InterNations is a great tool and support system for expats around the world.  With communities in almost 400 cities worldwide, InterNations provides a way for people working in foreign countries to socialize and network.  It also provides information useful for living in and adapting to another country. 

I am the featured blogger on InterNations this month.  CLICK HERE to read my interview.  I hope you enjoy it!
Susie of Arabia (Photo Credit: Blue Abaya)





Monday, April 6, 2015

Art Rehab Therapy for Convicted Terrorists

I wanted to share this encouraging story with you that I read on NPR about a successful rehabilitation program for convicted terrorists in Saudi Arabia. 

Treating Saudi Arabian Jihadists With Art Therapy

by Deborah Amos / NPR

Dr. Awad Al-Yami, an art therapist trained at the University of
Pennsylvania, is a counselor at a Saudi Arabian center
that seeks to rehabilitate convicted terrorists.
The center claims a success rate of more than 80 percent,
but acknowledges that some return to extremist groups like al-Qaida.
Deborah Amos/NPR

There are golf carts and palm trees and an Olympic-sized pool at the Mohammed Bin Naif Counseling and Care Center, a sprawling complex on the outskirts of Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh.

Once a holiday resort, the walled compound still looks like one — and not a rehabilitation center for convicted terrorists.

In the past year, the country has expanded counter-terrorism laws that make it illegal for Saudis to fight in Syria and Iraq. The kingdom has also expanded the terrorism rehab centers.

More than 3,000 young Saudi men graduated from the program since it began in 2008, including 120 former prisoners from a U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay.

The centers only work with inmates not convicted for violent crimes. The Saudis claim a success rate of more than 80 percent of the detainees returning to their families as well-adjusted members of Saudi society.

On my visit, the inmates are kept out of sight, except for a handpicked star graduate, 29-year-old Badr al-Anzi. Two years ago, he was set to join the militants of the self-declared Islamic State. Now he's a model of rehabilitation.

"I wanted to go to jihad," explains al-Anzi, who has a wife and three daughters. His plan was to travel to Syria with his cousin and brother, but he was arrested when he tried to pick up his passport at a government office.

After a six-month jail sentence, al-Anzi was sent to the rehab center. His treatment was intense, with psychological counseling, religious re-education, vocational training, plus financial incentives. Al-Anzi now attends college on a scholarship. He had help finding a job.

Many inmates draw pictures of castles. Al-Yami, the art therapist,
interprets them to mean, "I'm not going to give you any information.
I'm behind the wall and you can't get through."
Deb Amos / NPR
He makes monthly visits to the center to counsel others.

"Now, I want to fight ISIS," he says, which he does on Twitter, challenging Saudi recruits to quit and come home.

Al-Anzi's was an easy case. He never made it to the battlefield. But what about the hardened cases, the al-Qaida extremists?

"They're not so tough," says Dr. Awad Al-Yami, a counselor here. "These are our kids, and anyway, they are members of our society, and they are hurting us. We feel obligated to help them."

Al-Yami trained as an art therapist at the University of Pennsylvania. He pioneered an innovative program that's unusual in Saudi's ultra-conservative culture, where some clerics say that drawing is forbidden.

"I had a hard time convincing my people with art, let alone art therapy for jihadists," he says.

But the program has delivered results.

"Actually, art creates balance for your psyche," he says.

It is also a window on the psyche, he says. Drawing is a way for inmates to express emotions, anger and depression, when they first arrive at the center.

He keeps a gallery of paintings, which he analyzes like a detective. The black and white landscapes, which depict scenes from Afghanistan, mean an inmate is still living in the past.

After a few months of counseling, the paintings show more promise. Inmates use color and depict scenes from family life in Riyadh. Al-Yami says this is a sign that the inmate is coming to terms with coming home.

There is a striking number of inmates who draw pictures of castles with high walls. Those send a distinct message, according to Al-Yami.

"I'm not going to give you any information," he says. "I'm behind the wall and you can't get through. If I give you information, I am weak."

He takes the failures hard. Some 20 percent of the inmates here go back to the fight. One spectacular failure went on to become an al-Qaida leader in Yemen.

Now, Al-Yami is preparing for a new wave of inmates: the ISIS generation. He knows they are more extreme than al-Qaida.

"We've got some in prison, waiting for their sentences to be over and they will be here," he says.
Can he reach them, too? He pauses before he answers.

"What the hell am I going to do with ISIS?" he says, a man who knows his toughest challenge is ahead.


 See the original story on NPR and listen to the story on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday by CLICKING HERE.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saudi Arabia's first female detective trained in U.S.



As a former police officer myself, I was quite excited when I saw this news video of Nadeen Alsayat, the first Saudi female trained for police work.  Nadeen recently graduated from Colorado University with a Master's Degree in Criminal Justice paid for by the Saudi government and will become Saudi Arabia's first female detective.  She spent six months interning with the Commerce City Police Department in Colorado.

In addition to Nadeen's accomplishment in the USA, Saudi Arabia will be graduating its first ever class of female police officers as well this year.  Congratulations to Nadeen on achieving her childhood dream of becoming a police officer - and congratulations to the graduating class in KSA for leading the way for other females to break into careers that were previously taboo for Saudi women.

To read more about Nadeen Alsayat's training experience, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

First Wives Club



I used to be able to count on one hand the number of women I personally know whose Saudi husbands married a second wife.  Those days are gone.  Sadly now that number exceeds all the fingers on both hands and all of my toes as well.  As many of you know, Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia Law which comes from the Quran, the holy book of Islam.  Islam allows men to be married to up to four different women at the same time. 


Muslim scholars and Muslim men seem to be proud of the fact that the Quran is the only holy book that actually states “Marry only one (wife).”  I hear them boast about this all the time!  Why then are so many Muslim men taking on more than wife?  I find this amusing, since polygyny is permitted in Islam but not encouraged.  I just hate it when I hear men here saying that it is their God-given right.  Pfffft!

The original idea for this arrangement is centuries old and was borne out of the necessity of the times.  Men would go off to war, get killed, and there was an abundance of widows and orphans left behind that needed to be protected and provided for.  It was affirmed to be man's “social responsibility,” which begs the question:  Why exactly does a man have to marry a second woman to fulfill his social responsibility?  Especially when the Quran clearly says "Marry only one"???  Aren’t there other socially acceptable ways to provide for needy people other than marriage?  How about charity?  Why do men have to introduce sex into the equation in order to fulfill their social responsibility?

Many Muslim men like to make the claim that there are SO many more women in the world than men, and while that may have been the case centuries ago, statistically speaking, this is no longer a valid argument.  In today’s world, all recent statistics clearly show that men now outnumber women in births (107 to 100) and in the world population (101 to 100).

Yes, there are some countries in the world where women outnumber men, but in the total overall, there are more men.  And Saudi Arabia – where men can marry up to four women - is one of the majority countries that actually has more men than women - so this contention just doesn't hold water any more.

Another reason given for why polygyny is allowed in Islam is to allow a man whose wife cannot bear children to marry another woman who can have babies so he can produce heirs.  The problem with this assertion is that frequently the man is the one with fertility problems - so this excuse for multiple wives should at least have a provision that the man should be checked first to make sure he is not the one with sterility problems - don't cha think?  

 
I’ve even heard proponents of the multiple wives policy come up with the reasoning that there are so many gay men in the world - so obviously gay men don't count as eligible men in the marriage pool.  Hello?  They always seem to overlook the fact that there are also plenty of lesbians in the world too who don’t want to marry men either.  Moot point.  

And probably the most "honest" excuse I have heard for why polygyny is allowed in Islam is because men just naturally have a stronger sex drive and want to have sex with a variety of women.  So polygyny allows men to do this under the sanctity of marriage to prevent either of the participants from committing a grave sin, according to religion.  However, this argument totally discounts the female’s sex drive and presumes incorrectly that only men have strong sexual urges.  

So in Islam, a woman who becomes a second wife (or third or fourth) is considered by many as doing an "honorable" thing.  But somehow I really don’t think there are too many first wives out there who would actually agree with that statement.   

My thoughts on this are that there are three possible situations where a woman might become a second wife:  
1 – She is a desperate divorcee or widow and wants the security for herself and her children.  
2 – She becomes a second wife unwittingly because the man wasn’t honest with her.   
3 – She actively pursues a married man because she sees that he is wealthy and she doesn’t care that she is destroying a marriage and a family in the process.  

I personally know of women here in Saudi Arabia fitting all of these scenarios.  To be continued…