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Posted by on Oct 18, 2009 in Arts & Entertainment, International, Media, Miscellaneous, Places, Politics, Religion, Society | 2 comments

Saudi Arabia: Braggart, Sex & Lashes

Saudi women

It came as no surprise to me when I read a recent article “Saudi jailed for ‘bragging’ about sex”. You see, like an average man (or MCP) I, too, never lose an opportunity to brag…well, about everything!!! So, when I landed in Jeddah in the late-1970s to take up my journalistic assignment, my friends warned me to be very, very careful about two subjects — drinks and women — especially when bragging about these in public.

Early this month, Caryle Murphy wrote in Global Post:: “A young airline ticket agent who scandalized Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative society by bragging about his sexual prowess on television was sentenced today to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes.

“Mazen Abdul-Jawad, 32, who has been in jail awaiting trial since late July, was found guilty by a Saudi court of publicizing vice. In addition to claiming that his first sexual experience was with a neighbor at age 14, Abdul-Jawad described how he picked up women by sending them messages on Bluetooth. He also showed off his bedroom, about which he said: ‘Everything happens in this room’.

“Jimaie charged that (the TV channel) Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) heavily edited the taped interview and altered what Abdul-Jawad said through dubbing. ‘It’s what you call a montage,’ Al Jimaie said. ‘They showed him not in a real way. … They changed his words’.

“The satellite television channel is controlled by billionaire Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz. He is regarded as a liberalizing force in the kingdom, pushing for greater cultural freedoms for Saudi youth. He was a sponsor, for example, of the Jeddah Film Festival scheduled for last July. The Interior Ministry ordered it shut down at the last minute, with no explanation.”

Read the news story here…

Surprisingly, Saudi newspapers, especially English language, are quite free. Ayad Madani, who was my editor when I worked with The Saudi Gazette, and now Saudi Minister for Information and Culture, encouraged me and my colleague, an American, to campaign against female genital mutilation/cutting.(FGM/C)

FGM/C is practiced throughout the world, with the practice concentrated most heavily in Asia and Africa. Opposition is motivated by concerns regarding the consent (or lack thereof, in most cases) of the patient, and subsequently the safety and long-term consequences of the procedures.

In the past several decades, there have been many concentrated efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to end the practice of FGC. The United Nations has also declared February 6 as “International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation”. More here…

In fact, the Sheikh,who owned The Saudi Gazette paper, and my editor Ayad Madani were so impressed with my “unusual and shocking” reporting that they “promoted” me and I was posted to Riyadh on a full-time basis (a rare honour as I probably became the first non-Arab and non-Muslim journalist to be posted at the desert kingdom’s capital city). In those days media persons could only accompany the foreign VIPs and were generally based in Jeddah, the commercial hub. Even the embassies were located at Jeddah at that time.

I and my American friend (wife of an American pilot) did some extremely controversial stories for Saudi Gazette but were never ticked off. I (and my other expat friends) found Saudi Arabia a totally different and fascinating experience that can never be fully comprehended through the Western, or American, prism.

Meanwhile another Global Post story may interest the readers: “A man who signed a marriage contract to wed an 8-year-old girl has agreed to legally divorce the child following widespread condemnation by Saudis of the agreement, according to Saudi press reports.

“The case drew international attention after a Saudi judge in Onaiza twice refused to annul the marriage contract, which the father of the girl concluded with his 47-year-old friend in order to pay off a debt. More here…

Please note that this story first appeared in Saudi newspapers…!!!

Want to sample today’s article in The Saudi Gazette? Try this written by a woman journalist (and no holds barred!): “Perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of Saudi society in the non-Arab world is the myth that Saudi women are banned from driving cars. Read any English-language news periodical and the message is absolute: It’s illegal for Saudi women to drive.

“Well, that’s kinda-sorta-usually-but-not-always true. For decades, Saudi women have been driving on highways and streets outside of urban areas. They must because their families’ survival depends on it. While men are working, wives are tasked with taking the kids to school, transporting livestock to market, and managing the house.

“They also drive big tankers to bring drinking water to their villages. Many of these women are also Bedouins who travel from village to village earning a living by transporting goods…” More here…

Photograph above courtesy the Associated Press.

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