you know you’ve been Saudi-ized when …

I know I have been quite lax about updating this blog, and to my faithful readers – all 10 of you ūüėČ – I do apologize.

In thinking about why I may have been less inspired to keep this up, one thought came to mind – have I been Saudi-ized?

Granted, this place certainly seems less strange to me, and dare I say, it is almost like a second home now? So how is it that I feel that I have become Saudi-ized? Well, a few indicators for me:

– I don’t bat an eye when I see a car driving down the street in the wrong direction, or better yet, driving in reverse down the street. He probably just missed a turn or is taking a short-cut.

– I respond to most questions with inshallah.

– I feel like I am not decently dressed if I go out without covering my hair.

– Going to the mall is just about the most entertainment I settle for these days.

– A party isn’t a real party unless there’s a whole lamb being served for dinner!

– I like to have my coffee and sweets (dates) before dinner, and sometimes again for dessert too. Hence, the Saudi seven.

ostriches in Saudi Arabia

I saw a video today that reminded me of something I spotted in a Carrefour (grocery store) in Riyadh 4 years ago:

Local ostrich?!?! … I never knew that ostriches could be found in Saudi Arabia, but indeed, the now extinct Arabian ostrich¬†used to roam broadly across the Arabian Peninsula.

I’m not aware of ostrich meat being particularly common in Saudi cuisine, but apparently there is a market for it. But perhaps any market for their meat is too much for these plucky animals:

I don’t know about you, but I am rooting for this animal to fly (run) away to freedom!

Wadjda

Have I mentioned that I think that change in Saudi will be driven (ha, no pun intended) by the women? Wadjda¬†is the first feature film to be shot in Saudi Arabia and just debuted at the Venice Film Festival. It was directed by a Saudi ¬†female filmmaker named Haifaa Al-Mansour and from what I can tell, has garnered great reviews so far. I love the fact that they shot it on location in Riyadh. Quite a feat considering that pointing even a cell phone camera in any direction can arouse suspicion and dirty looks. And check out this photo of the director and one of the film’s actors (also Saudi) on the red carpet. The image of Saudi women continues to evolve …

Can’t wait to see the film. Hope it somehow makes its way to Canada. Or you never know … maybe I’ll see it next time I’m in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi women in the Olympics – a true reflection of “progress”?

A lot has been made this year about the fact that Saudi women were finally allowed to join the Saudi Olympic team. However, I have difficulty being excited or encouraged by this step “forward”, for many reasons.

First, I think it must be obvious to everyone that this was just a symbolic move to appease the International Olympic Committee and save Saudi Arabia (and the IOC) from embarrassment. With all the loud and strenuous calls for Saudi Arabia to be banned from these games (dating as far back as 2008), I am sure that the Saudis did not want to end up on the same page in the history books as South Africa’s apartheid governments. (South Africa was the only country ever to be banned from the Olympics.) And of course, Saudi Arabia is no patsy on the world’s economic and political stage, so it probably wouldn’t have been very strategic for the IOC (and its friends) to get into a tiff with the Saudis.

Second, I couldn’t help but smirk when I read this quote from Sarah Attar (one of the female Saudi Olympians, who by the way was born and raised in California), “… I hope that it can really make some good strides for women over there to get more involved in the sport.” Is she implying that Saudi women are currently not involved enough in sports because they don’t have the self-motivation and initiative to do so? Even if a girl or woman wanted to do exercise or play sports, where could she go? And to get to an elite level, who’s going to train her? (The other Saudi female Olympian, judo athlete Wojdan Shahrkhani, was coached by her father who is an international judo referee. She has never competed at an international level.) I don’t see how having these two women on the Saudi Olympic team is going to do anything for the participation of Saudi women in sport, unless there are major changes in the school and community/social systems in Saudi Arabia. Just earlier this month, Saudi authorities had denied permission for a women’s sports tournament to take place (no reason for the denial was given).¬† And unfortunately, there are loud voices from within Saudi that are resorting to the internet to spread hateful messages about Saudi female athletes. Hopefully, the many voices countering these messages will continue to grow stronger and louder.

Third, before we Westerners get up on our high-horse about the backwardness of the Saudi attitude towards sports and women, let’s not forget that there’s still a long way to go in our society when it comes to attitudes about women and sport. It was only this year that all the sports in the Summer Olympics will have both men and women’s events. Even just 2 years ago at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, we heard much about the court battle to force the IOC to include women’s ski jumping (the court refused to hear the case). And there are so many other examples, in the Olympics and throughout professional and amateur sport, where the type of media focus greatly differs depending on whether the coverage is on the male or the female athletes (e.g. recent example about beach volleyball players at the London Olympics).

Hmm, progress? Seems like we could all use some.

occupational hazards of reporters for state-run media

It’s not easy being a reporter on the ground these days in the Arab world. Camelman shared with me some YouTube video posts of two recent examples of reporters from state-controlled media whose fingers on the pulse from the street were just a little bit off.

This first video shows a reporter from Nile News who was not quite on the button when it came to reporting on how the Egyptian people on the street around him felt about the verdict handed down to Hosni Mubarak earlier this week. When the reporter started to say that the majority of the people were satisfied with the verdict (around 0:27), that’s when he got that tap on the shoulder. He then tried to calm them down by saying that the majority wants the death penalty, but it was useless by then. The crowd can then be heard chanting “liars in the media!” and “the verdict is void!” as the camera pans out and he becomes lost in the crowd.

Not very clever of him, I must say. This is a nice example of why it’s so important for journalists to check their facts!

In this next video, you need only watch the first few seconds. You will see a hapless Syrian reporter who got smacked with a shoe by a passing man as he shouted something about the Syrian media, followed by “damn your father, you dog!”

 

The state-run media business is not like it used to be!

… So malls in Saudi certainly seem the “place to be” these days, especially given the hot summer temperatures and the recent easing of restrictions of who may enter and when. They also may become the venue of choice for public demonstrations against the authorities, as exemplified by a recent protest at the Sahara Mall in Riyadh, which was documented on YouTube, Twitter, and blog posts (as I reblogged above). This follows on the heels of the protests earlier in the spring by university students as well as other isolated incidents. Who knows … will this turn out to be an especially long, hot summer for the Saudi authorities?

Saudi Jeans

Relatives of political detainees held a small protest in Riyadh Wednesday night, photos and videos posted to social media sites showed. The protest took place inside Sahara Mall in the northern part of the Saudi capital. The videos below show men marching inside the mall as they chant a hadeeth by the Prophet that says ‚Äúrelease the distressed.‚ÄĚ




The account @e3teqal on Twitter, which identifies itself as a coordinator for the activities of illegal detention victims in Saudi Arabia, posted a number of photos purporting to show the protest:





UPDATE 6/7/2012 1:10: Mohammad al-Abdulaziz said on Twitter that his brother and his family (wife and three children) have been arrested. It is said that more people have been arrested.

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Manal Al-Sharif at the Oslo Freedom Forum

It’s been about a year since the Women2Drive campaign was launched with Manal al-Sharif getting behind the wheel of a car and driving in the streets of Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia.

A couple of weeks ago, she was honored as one of the awardees of the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Here is the video of her talk in Oslo:

Although relatively short at only about 15 minutes, I found her speech to be very compelling and providing real insight into the foundations for what is going on now in Saudi society. (And I’ll never listen to the Backstreet Boys in the same way again!) Also not to be overlooked is the fact that here is a Saudi woman not only showing her face, but having it broadcast all over the Internet. She is trailblazing a path for Saudi women in more ways than one.

I also found it interesting that to-date, there have been so many ‘dislikes’ vs. ‘likes’ on the YouTube page of her video. Obviously it seems that there are yet to be many battles to be waged on many fronts here.