Category Archives for Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Women Take One Small Step Into the 21st Century

SAUDI WOMEN TAKE ONE SMALL STEP INTO THE 21ST CENTURY

Congratulations to Saudi Arabia as Saudi women take one small step into the 21st century by both voting and standing for council posts in last weekend’s municipal elections.

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Women in Saudi Arabia Vote for the First Time

Right across Saudi Arabia from small villages to the largest cities, 20 women were elected to municipal council seats.

Of the 7,000 candidates who stood for election, 979 were women and 2,100 seats were up for the taking in 249 local councils, so 20 female winners represent only 1% of those appointed – but it’s a start when before you have had no representation at all.

The Saudi King also has a quota of 1,050 seats to fill with his appointees, so hopefully he will he will take the opportunity to let in a few more of the women candidates.

4 women were elected in Riyadh, the conservative capital and 2 in the predominately Shia Islam Eastern Province.

Another woman was elected in Jeddah in western Saudi Arabia, perhaps the country’s most cosmopolitan city, while one more gained a seat in the holy city of Medina, the site of Prophet Mohammed’s first mosque.

Another woman was elected in the village of Madrakah, 150 kilometres north of Mecca which over bad roads has the nearest hospital, pointing out that many women in her village ended up giving birth in cars.

Other issues raised by the women candidates were more nurseries to look after children while mothers worked, more community centres for sports and cultural activities, the aforementioned better roads, improved garbage collection and greener cities.

I suspect there might be some more directly feminist issues waiting to surface in the background, but with this tentative level of suppression release it is probably wise to save those for another day. Saudi Arabia’s extreme clerics will be enraged at the changes as it is.

Credit for the policies all go to the new Saudi leader, King Salman, the Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayef and the Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, plus a coterie of relatively young, well-educated Cabinet members who frequently travel to the West and other countries worldwide.

While I am no great believer in the inalienable rights or abilities of hereditary royals, when it’s all you’ve got and they hold all the power and the purse strings, that’s what you have to work with.

In an attempt to make the elections a more level playing field for women forced to wear the full face-veil the General Election Committee, presumably on orders from the Government, banned all candidates, male and female from showing their faces in promotional posters, advertising boards or online. They were also not allowed to appear on television.

Of the 130,000 women who registered to vote, a 106,000 did so. Of the 1.35 million men registered to vote, less than half actually filled in a ballot paper, around 600,000. Overall turnout was 47%.http://www.petercliffordonline.com

In Jeddah, 3 generations of women from the same family voted for the very first time, the oldest being 94.

Her daughter reflected on how important it was to vote, saying, “I walked in and said I’ve have never seen this before. Only in the movies. It was a thrilling experience.”

That response, while understood, would probably be seen as “sad” in the West.

Especially as Saudi women are still not allowed to drive a car, go out on their own unless accompanied by a male chaperone (usually a close family member), go to a mixed swimming pool, compete in sports, or wear clothes or make-up that “may show up their beauty”.

Interestingly, in a show of support, Uber drivers in some of the major cities drove women to the polling stations in last weekend’s elections, for free (though I can’t help wondering how many men refused to accompany their wives or even let them out of the house?)

There is still a long way to go.

Saudi women who competed in the last Olympic Games were described as “prostitutes” by hardline clerics back home and the Saudi consultant to the Olympic Committee has even proposed this year, 2015, that Saudi Arabia be allowed to host the Games – but with no women at all taking part!

At a recent book fair in Jeddah, where books by female Saudi writers were displayed and women took part in Q and A panels (and even Donald Trumps’ books were on display), 2 men got up and protested when a female poet started quoting poetry from her new book.

One of the men, addressing the audience, asked, “Do you accept that a woman recites poetry?” Fortunately, the audience responded with an unequivocal ‘yes’ and the two men were escorted out.

In Saudi Arabia the roots of all this, on the surface at least, lie in Wahaabism the official religion of the State founded on the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, an 18th century cleric from the remote eastern interior of Arabia.

The main tenets of this religious philosophy is that there is only one God, Allah, and any that do not believe in him are unbelievers or apostates. The sectarian philosophy also does not believe in the worship and revering of clerics or saints and that there should be no shrines or places of worship other than those purely devoted to the “one God” (as defined by them).

This therefore excludes the Shiite Moslems who have numerous shrines and places of pilgrimage. In fact, in the original Wahaabi doctrines, jihad, or holy war against all “unbelievers”, including all other Moslems, was fully permissible.

In its extreme form Wahaabism forbids the “performing or listening to music, dancing, fortune telling, amulets, television programs (unless religious), smoking, playing backgammon, chess, or cards, drawing human or animal figures, acting in a play or writing fiction” and even the keeping or petting of dogs.

As far as women are concerned, they are forbidden to travel or work outside the home without their husband’s permission on the grounds that their “different physiological and biological structure” means they have a different family role to play, and if the husband does give permission to his wife to work outside the home, it can be withdrawn at any time.http://www.petercliffordonline.com

As mentioned before, Wahhabism also forbids the driving of motor vehicles by women and sexual intercourse out of wedlock may be punished with beheading – although sex outside marriage is permissible with a “slave woman” (though probably not a woman with a “slave man” of course?).

(Just as well as Prince Bandar bin Sultan [former ambassador to the US and director of Saudi Intelligence] was the result of a “brief union” between his father, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz and a 16 year old “black serving women” – though slavery has since been “formerly banned” in the kingdom.)

In all of this it is easy to see the where the Islamic State gets its basic tenets and “vindication” from, offering a “pure” form of Islam which is “justified” in taking over the world (See last week’s post on The Anatomy of an Islamic State Jihadist).

Wahaabism has been so successful because it formed an alliance with the militarily aggressive House of Saud back in the 18th century, eventually taking over the whole of the Arabian peninsular, and more recently because of the billions of dollars of oil revenue monies used to promote it.

The result however is a bloody and deadly sectarian schism in Islam between the Sunni (of which Wahaabism is a part) and Shia branch descendants of Prophet Mohammad. Until this is sorted the Middle East and many other parts of the Islamic world will remain a mess.

However, the apparent misogynist aspects of Islam, Wahaabi or otherwise, are not restricted to males of the Moslem religion, they are still too common in the rest of the world.

Here in the UK, British boxer, Tyson Fury, who became WBA World Heavyweight Champion in November 2015, recently caused controversy by declaring that “a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back – that’s my personal belief.”

Undoubtedly, he should keep his “personal beliefs” to himself, but I suspect that covertly a lot of men, wherever they are in the world, think the same way.

Such beliefs, in my view, are based on fear, pure and simple.

Again, as I have often written, our values are formed in childhood and if we grow up with bullying mothers, for whatever reason, and/or are encouraged by other males in the absurd notion that somehow men are “superior”, then we are more likely to gravitate to a male ethos that tries to suppress women in adulthood.

In fact it may be that suppression of women in the Islamic world and elsewhere which contributes to the disdain and disrespect that males show as adults towards women, is sometimes started by frustrated women taking out there anger at exclusion from full participation in the world, on their male (and female) children. And so the circle of deprivation and loss continues into the future.

The key to accelerating change is female education, as Malala Yousafzai, the 18 year old Pakistani, Noble Peace Prize winner has championed and to which, unsurprisingly, the Taliban and the Islamic State remain fiercely opposed.

At the Jeddah book fair mentioned earlier, the Saudi Minister of Education and Information, Adel al-Toraifi, said that an Arab reads six minutes a day, compared to the world average of 36 minutes.

He also said that the Arab world prints 27,809 books a year, which translates into 12,000 Arabs getting one book.

Compare that with China which publishes 440,000 books a year and the United States and the UK which publish just under 500,000 books a year between them.

Hopefully, the spread of and access to the Internet (when its male viewers are not accessing pornography) can help to change all that.

Peter Clifford  – 16th December 2015

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Threats, Delusions and Sectarian Persecution in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia


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DESPITE RELEASE OF HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS BENEATH BAHRAIN’S “THIN VENEER OF REFORM” LITTLE HAS CHANGED:

BAHRAIN’S JUDICIAL SYSTEM USED AS “SLOW PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE” TO CAUSE AS MUCH DISTRESS AS POSSIBLE:

SAUDI ARABIA COLLUDES IN VINDICTIVE PERSECUTION OF MEDICAL STUDENTS, WRECKING THEIR STUDIES:

TIMELINE – 1st June 2012 11.15 GMT:

Following the release on bail on Monday of Nabeel Rajab, another 3 activists Zainab AlKhawaja, Masooma Sayyid Sharaf and Hassan Oun were released from detention on Tuesday of this week.

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Zainab Alkhawaja Shortly After Her Release

Like Nabeel Rajab, Zainab and Masooma were released on bail and will have to return to court in June to answer further charges.

But as Amnesty International said on Tuesday in a statement, commenting on the ongoing trials of prisoners of conscience and the many political prisoners still held in detention on questionable charges, “behind Bahrain’s thin veneer of reform, little has changed in practice and the human rights crisis is far from over”.

This was highlighted last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, when following a “Universal Periodic Revue” (UPR), which all UN member states are subject to, Bahrain was severely criticised for its human rights record and landed with 176 recommendations which it says it is going to “consider”.

As well a some internationally known human rights organisations, some civic society members of the Opposition from Bahrain gave evidence at the hearing including Drs.Ala’a Shehabi and Nada Dhaif, Maryam AlKhawaja and Jalila al Salman.

Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) was unable to attend as he was still being held in prison accused of “insulting a state institution” on his Twitter account.

At the end of the hearings last Friday and the issuing of the report on Bahrain, the President of the Human Rights Council Laura Dupuy Lasserre, issued an unprecedented statement saying she had been advised that some of those giving evidence against the Bahrain Government had been named and vilified in Bahrain’s media and threatened with interrogation and reprisals since appearing.

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Laura Lasserre, President UN HR Council

The President of the Council went on to name all the civil society members from Bahrain who attended and called for their protection. A video of the President’s statement is HERE:

Despite vehement statements of denial from Bahraini officials at the UN and back home that they would “ever do such a thing”, reports from Manama confirmed that vilification of the activists who spoke in Geneva continued on Bahrain’s state TV on Tuesday evening and that since the beginning of the session on Monday 21st May, a number of columns have appeared in Bahrain media labeling the activists as “traitors” and making other derogatory statements against them.

Dr. Salah Ali, Minister of State at Bahrain’s “Human Rights” Ministry and leader of their UN delegation, called the allegations “unfounded” and said he would like to know who made such a complaint to the Human Rights Council?

The representatives from Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Kuwait and Yemen, all of whom had supported Bahrain’s shining human rights record”, condemned the President for her statement.

However, Laura Dupuy Lasserre stood by her comments and in her final remarks said that it was her duty to protect those who face attacks.

BAHRAIN’S JUDICIAL SYSTEM USED AS “SLOW PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE” TO CAUSE AS MUCH DISTRESS AS POSSIBLE:

Jalila Al Salman, Deputy Vice President of the Bahrain Teachers Union and who is currently still on trial for “attempting to overthrow the Government of Bahrain” along with Mahdi Abu Deeb, said “I was very uncomfortable about the daily reports in the loyal press.

It gives a bad feeling but I was very happy to hear our names in the UN room. It gave me the feeling that I am under the UN protection”.

Jalila and Mahdi’s case came before the courts again on Tuesday, but in the traditional warped style of Bahrain’s judicial system, the process was postponed again until 25th June. While Jalila remains free on bail, Mahdi, President of the Bahrain Teachers Union, continues to be held in prison where he has already spent more than 12 months.

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Jalila Al Salman & Mahdi Abu Deeb

The judicial system used in this way is just another form of “slow psychological torture” to cause maximum distress, alternating with hope, and then more distress and maximum inconvenience to the prisoners and their families and supporters.

A video called “The Bleeding Pearl” documents both the recent and older history of the physical torture inflicted on Bahraini citizens. The victims speak eloquently of their dreadful experiences. 

More than one accuses Lieutenant Noora Al Khalifa, a member of the “royal family”, of directing and taking part in torture sessions. You can watch the video, HERE:

As yet, not one single person, senior or junior, has been held accountable for these gross acts of barbarity and in some cases, murder, and successfully prosecuted, though a number of trials of junior members of the security forces are in progress.

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Protesters Show Pictures of Victims of Torture

Apart from everything else, sectarian abuse and targeting continues, despite the “protests of innocence” of the Government and frequent statements about what “huge strides towards democracy and freedom of expression” it is making, usually aimed at fooling the international community..

Good examples are statements in Istanbul made yesterday by Bahrain’s Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa at the “International Forum of the Alliance of Civilisations” held in Turkey and chaired by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In his speech to the forum Sheikh Ali said that Bahrain “is a country of law, institutions and people’s participation in building communities… the kingdom continues to implement its commitment to the freedom of thought and expression, justice and cultural and religious diversity through cultural dialogue between civilisations”.

Which is a complete load of twaddle  when you know that Nabeel Rajab was imprisoned for sending out Tweets mentioning the Ministry of the Interior.

To emphasise the absurdity of the point, his supporters rallied behind him at a demonstration in Manama yesterday at which they displayed in large format dozens of Nabeel’s Tweets transmitted before his recent arrest.

SAUDI ARABIA COLLUDES IN VINDICTIVE PERSECUTION OF MEDICAL STUDENTS, WRECKING THEIR STUDIES:

On top of the Government’s delusional deception is their sheer sectarian vindictiveness.

Just one example of this are their attacks on students. Zainab Maklooq (24), Alaa Sayed (24) and Zahraa Zabar (23) were all medical students studying and living until last year at the Al-Damam University (King Faisal University) in Saudi Arabia.

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Entrance to King Faisal University, Damman

On March 21st 2011, shortly after the outbreak of democracy demonstrations in Bahrain, the 3 students were requested by the Director of Al Dammam University housing, apparently on orders from the Saudi “Higher National Security Council”, to collect their personal belongings because they were to be immediately deported.

After being driven to the King Fahd causeway they were handed over to 5o masked security personnel from Bahrain, driven away in a mini-bus and verbally abused on the journey.

After 23 days in prison for made-up charges of “criticizing government symbols”, “inciting hatred towards the regime”, “organizing protests at the university” and “contacting foreign TV channels and disseminating misleading information” and 3 court appearances they were acquitted for lack of evidence.

Despite this the 3 students are banned from returning to Saudi Arabia to complete their studies. Zainab and Alaa were in their sixth year of study and just a few months away from graduating and Zahraa was in her fifth year.

Applications to other universities have been meet with the information that they will have to repeat at least 3 years of study.

Mahmood Habib is another Bahraini medical student who had a scholarship to the University of King Faisal in Saudi Arabia where he was in his last year of study and was about to take his final exam.

Shortly before this was about to happen he was told that complaints had been made against him by colleagues concerning supposed comments on the situation in Bahrain. He was suspended and has since been expelled. No crime, no trial, years of study wasted. You can read more of this (and worse) HERE:

EDITOR: As long as vicious sectarian persecution, based on flimsy and in some cases no evidence at all, continues in Bahrain, the kingdom will be the laughing stock of the world as civilised people see straight through its ridiculous and hypocritical posturing and its acts of sheer vindictiveness.

Support the campaign to get another of Bahrain’s “royal”, sectarian persecutors and torturers, Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa barred from this year’s London Olympic by signing this petition, HERE:

The petition is also now on AVAAZ’s Community Petitions Front Page:

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Protesters March in Solidarity With Rajab's Right to Tweet - Courtesy of @anmarek