Activists circulate new details about arrest of Saudi imam

Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali [file]

Sheikh Safar Al-Hawali

Details about Saudi Arabia’s arrest of the prominent Islamic scholar Safar Al-Hawali and three of his sons have been revealed by activists on social networking sites. Al-Hawali was detained on Thursday, just a few days after the publication of his book, Muslims and Western Culture, in which he attacks the policies of the current Saudi government, especially its rapprochement with the United States, the UAE and the Egyptian regime of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

The Twitter account operated by “Prisoners of Conscience” explained that the officers who arrested Al-Hawali at dawn on Thursday arrived at his home in the village of Hawala with an ambulance. This proves, they insisted, that the authorities were well aware of his critical health condition — he suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2005 and still suffers from its effects — but still took him to prison.

At the same time, the Saudis also arrested Al-Hawali’s brother, Shaikh Saadallah, in what was described as a “barbaric” manner, which frightened his family. He was taken by masked officers to an unknown destination; nothing has been heard about him since.

Quoting unspecified sources, the account on Twitter claimed that the authorities separated Shaikh Safar Al-Hawali from his sons in prison. He was transferred to Riyadh, while his sons were taken to Jeddah.

In his book, the 68-year-old scholar discussed the internal differences between the members of the ruling Al-Saud family, which are in the public domain and, he argued, pose a threat to the Kingdom. He also criticised the Saudi participation in the siege of Qatar.

Publication of the book sparked widespread controversy on social networks. While his son attributed the book to his father, others who know Al-Hawali well are sceptical about the claim, not least because of the words attributed to him.

Safar Al-Hawali came to prominence as a member of the Sahwah movement, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. During the 1991 Gulf War he surprised everyone with his courage and unconventional political rhetoric. He publically opposed the intervention of US forces and their presence on Saudi soil. Having disagreed with the government of the then monarch, King Fahd, and the religious institutions led by Shaikh Abd Al-Aziz Bin Baz, he was imprisoned for many years.

For almost a year, the Saudi authorities have arrested clerics, academics and others who were, they allege, working “for the benefit of external parties against the security and interests of the kingdom.” Critics suggest that the only “crime” of those arrested is that they did not back the Saudi government in its campaign against the State of Qatar.

(Source / 15.07.2018)

Saudi using Israeli tech firm to ‘identify terrorists’

An Israeli technology firm said it was contacted by the Saudi royal family who asked it to help identify terrorist threats in the country, Bloomberg Business Week reported on Thursday.

Israeli Shmuel Bar, the founder of IntuView, a company whose software can scan four million Facebook and Twitter posts per day, said he was contacted by a Saudi official two years ago asking him to a Skype call. The official said the government wanted to use Bar’s software to “identify terrorists” on condition he setup a sister company which was not based in Israel.

“It’s not as if I went looking for this,” Bar explained. “They came to me.”

In the interview with Bloomberg, Bar said he now works freely with a number of Arab countries, all be it quietly.

“If it’s a country which is not hostile to Israel that we can help, we’ll do it,” Bar said. Only Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq are off-limits.

“The Arab boycott? It doesn’t exist.”

(Source / 04.02.2017)

Saudi royal family betraying Islam, Muslims: Commentator

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Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman recently caused a stir by making inflammatory remarks against Iran. Reacting to the statements, Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi has blamed Saudi Arabia for plunging the Middle East into chaos by sponsoring Takfiri terrorism. He said the remarks were just a blame game to downplay the crimes committed against civilians in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Qassemi  added that Saudi Arabia has betrayed Muslims and the cause of Palestine by being in league with the Israeli regime. He urged Saudi officials to correct their behavior and ponder on the repercussions of their destructive acts.

Talking to Press TV, Tony Gosling, an investigative journalist, praised Qassemi for his wise and restrained reaction to the recent comments by the Saudi deputy crown prince, warning that Saudi Arabia’s continuation of such incendiary policies would cause grave troubles inside the country.

“I think it is a very mature approach from Tehran, from Bahram Qassemi from Foreign Ministry that he is not judging them. This is a mature spiritual attitude. He is saying ‘Look! Correct your behavior and reflect on what you are doing.’ Because everybody knows around the world that Saudis have been lured into these relationships with the Americans and the Israelis,” Gosling said, adding that unless Saudi officials mend their ways, they will have to encounter more problems at home.

The commentator also described Saudi Arabia as “a dictatorship” which has truly betrayed Islam and Muslims in recent years through its alliance with the Israeli regime.

“It is quite right that Saudi Arabia has betrayed Islam. It is in cahoots with the Israelis and the British and the Americans and of course there is a big connection there and a lot of embarrassment over the 9/11 attacks in connection with the Bin Laden family,” he noted.

Gosling finally reiterated that the British empire has created Saudi Arabia and, hence, it has to bear the responsibility for its crimes.

“We all know here in Britain and in London that there were many Saudi princes, people from the royal family, coming over in the 1970s and 80s with high-class prostitutes in London. So, they have basically been lured in through this source of intelligence tactics to betray what Islam is really about.”

In an interview with the American magazine Foreign Affairs published on Thursday, Prince Salman, whose country is widely believed to be among the major sponsors of terrorism, accused Iran of creating instability, encouraging terrorism and violating the sovereignty of other nations in the region.

(Source / 08.01.2017)

Is this the beginning of a revolution by Saudi women?

Saudi women hold national flags as they walk on a street during Saudi National Day in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 23, 2016

A police spokesman in Riyadh announced Dec. 12 the arrest of a young Saudi woman, Malak al-Shehri, for violating Saudi regulations by taking off her abaya — a loose-fitting full-length robe — in a public place, and openly revealing her relations with young men. The girl was held at the women’s prison as a preliminary measure before being transferred to the public prosecution office and the Investigation Commission affiliated with the Ministry of Interior.

On Nov. 28, Shehri, 21, had posted on her Twitter account — which she deleted after being fiercely attacked by conservatives — that she would go out the next morning wearing a skirt with a “stylish jacket,” and start her day with breakfast at McDonald’s and then coffee and cigarettes with a male friend.

The next day, Shehri headed to al-Tahliya Street in Riyadh, without wearing her abaya, and posted a photo of herself on Twitter.

This provoked the wrath of the Riyadh Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which submitted a request to police to arrest Shehri on charges of public disobedience.

After the news of Shehri’s detention became public, social media activists launched a Twitter campaign called “#FreeMalakAlshehri.”

Manal Massoud al-Sharif, a Saudi writer and information security consultant, expressed solidarity with Shehri and posted on Dec. 13 her own photo without the abaya at Najma Beach resort, in Ras Tanura in eastern Saudi Arabia, a gated Saudi Aramco employee compound that is not subject to the country’s conservative rules.

Sharif wrote on her Twitter account Dec. 16, “The [female] German defense minister visited Saudi Arabia and was not wearing the abaya. She was not arrested,” arguing that this shows double standards by Saudi religious institutions, including the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in applying the Sharia provisions on citizens only, while exempting princesses, expatriates and foreign visitors.

Sharif’s tweet aimed at pointing out that Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had hosted the German female minister on Dec. 8 and shook hands with her, although she refused to cover her hair and wear the abaya.

In a related context, the Saudi Ministry of Education also announced that it had opened an investigation after video footage went viral on social media. The video was shot by the father of a female student, showing his daughter coming out of her school in Sabiya province in southern Saudi Arabia on Dec. 7 without her abaya after the school’s female principal, Mudhisha Hamlan, had confiscated the abayas of a number of students to punish them for wearing indecent, tight or colored abayas instead of the traditional black and loose-fitting robe.

Hamlan told Rotana channel Dec. 9, “The girls violated official regulations at a girls’ school.”

State-sanctioned religious scholars in Saudi Arabia, most prominently among them Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah al-Sheikh, are usually appointed by royal decree. They continue to insist on their traditional doctrinal views that women should be covered and should not mingle or shake hands with men.

Salih ibn Fawzan ibn Abdullah al-Fawzan, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars and the Permanent Committee for Islamic Research and Fatwas, insists that women should wear loose-fitting dress covering their entire bodies.

The Saudi monarchy, however, is often ignoring its religious establishment’s views and fatwas on women affairs. For instance, it has appointed women to positions that traditionally were limited to men. On Aug. 1, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan was named as the head of the women’s section at the General Authority for Sports, and has appeared in the media, along with other Saudi women, without covering her face and hair on several occasions. Also, the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced in January 2015 a vacancy for the posts of diplomatic secretary and attache for women, which require the female official to travel and shake hands with foreign men.

The Wahhabi establishment has monitored the lives of Saudis to make sure that they are committed to the Salafi method since the first Saudi state was established in 1744. In addition, it has managed the affairs related to the education of women since 1960, under the supervision of Mohammed bin Ibrahim al-Sheikh, the grandson of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia at the time. It was only in 2002 that the education of boys and girls was integrated in a single ministry.

The Wahhabi establishment also opposed the appointment of women at the Shura Council. Sheikh Saleh al-Lahidan, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars denied on Sept. 30, 2011, that senior scholars were consulted by the monarchy or approved that women be present at the Shura Council. Yet, it now seems that this establishment has become more realistic and understanding of Riyadh’s new inclinations.

Oddly, the Wahhabi establishment has become more caring about women’s rights and their participation in public life. This was evident in a Bloomberg interview with the Saudi deputy crown prince, who also is the chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, in April.

The deputy crown prince was reported as saying, “We believe women have rights in Islam that they have yet to obtain,” which reveals his determination to grant Saudi women all their rights.

Al-Monitor asked Haifa, a young Saudi woman sitting with her friend at a Starbucks coffee shop in Jeddah, in western Saudi Arabia, about the rights that Saudi women are seeking to obtain, and whether abandoning the hijab is part of their rights and freedom.

The young woman, a student at the College of Medicine, said on condition her last name not be used that a woman should be entitled to wear what she wants, as long as her outfit does not offend public morals.

Haifa added, “Women have the right to a stringent law that provides for a specific punishment against harassment. Mingling with men in public places and changing the shape and color of the hijab or abaya is no longer our primary cause. Saudi women now aspire to obtain the right to drive cars. We will keep fighting until our demands are met and until women can assume the post of a minister in the government. We also want to be able to choose who will represent us in an elected parliament. Our cause is not limited to black abayas imposed by the appointed Shura Council.”

Most Saudi officials in political and religious authorities declare their support for women’s rights, whether those provided for by Islam or by man-made laws. All of them declare their support for women’s participation in public life, but the difference in the interpretation of the concept of rights between the political and religious spheres makes the Saudi women’s mission to get their rights more difficult, which may be pushing some women to take bold steps that could embarrass the authorities in Riyadh.

(Source / 23.12.2016)

Saudi Arabia Launches Program to Limit Internet Usage, Enhance Information Security Level

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A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture

Jeddah – The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has announced a project to limit the internet consumption in the country and to enhance the level of information security. The ministry also announced operating a new extension for internet.

Experts in the Information Technology told Asharq al-Awsat that this step aims at raising awareness towards the dangers of information security, coordinating efforts in the field of cyber security and increasing confidence in cyber dealings.

Security Advisor Professor Yusuf al-Rumaih said that this procedure is to protect the social and economic system of the country from insecure hacking especially amidst the internet criminal organizations exploitation to reach for individuals in target such as teenagers and the youths.

The number of spam messages sent daily on the social network websites is estimated as more than 100,000. They basically encourage chaos and jihad. Security Consultant and Researcher Professor Ali al-Khashaiban said that focusing on information security is one of the basic steps that protect the society from any violations on the security and mental levels.

According to official warnings, the offenses against governmental bodies and huge companies seek coding websites through spreading malice viruses—this fact pushed parties to send warning letters for devices users to avoid falling for these attempts.

The spying program includes sending messages via the social network websites—however if users examined the messages carefully then they can deleted them and avoid the damage.

(Source / 08.11.2016)

Saudi Arabia: Explosions near Medina and Qatif mosques

Deaths reported at Prophet’s Mosque in Medina as witnesses say body parts of presumed bomber seen in Qatif.

The Medina explosion occurred just before the Maghreb prayers

Four people, including two security guards, have been killed in an explosion outside the Prophet’s Mosque in the Saudi Arabia’s Medina, Islam’s second holiest city, sources tell Al Jazeera.

Photos on social media show smoke billowing from a fire outside the mosque where Prophet Muhammad is buried.

The cause of the explosion on Monday evening was not immediately known. Some reports suggested it was a suicide bombing, while others said a gas cylinder had blown up.

Qari Ziyaad Patel, 36, from South Africa, was at the mosque when he heard a blast just as the call to sunset prayers was ending.

Many at first thought it was the sound of traditional, celebratory cannon fire, but then he felt the ground shake.

“The vibrations were very strong,” he told the AP news agency. “It sounded like a building imploded.”

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The blasts occurred just before the Maghreb (sunset) prayers when people were breaking their fast inside the mosque.

Qatif explosions

Around the same time, two other explosions struck near a mosque in the eastern city of Qatif on the Gulf coast, residents said.

Witnesses said a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Shia mosque without causing any other injuries.

They reported seeing body parts lying on the ground in the city’s business district.

“Suicide bomber for sure. I can see the body” which was blasted to pieces, a resident told the AFP news agency.

Nasima al-Sada, another resident, said “one bomber blew himself up near the mosque”.

A third witness told Reuters news agency that one explosion destroyed a car parked near the mosque, followed by another explosion just before 7pm local time.

“We are in the last 10 days of Ramadan and those places are crowded because of that for Maghreb [sunset] prayers,” Khaled Batarfi, a Saudi Gazette columnist, told Al Jazeera.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Early on Monday morning, two security officers were injured as a suicide bomberblew himself up near the US consulate in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

Security officers became suspicious of a man near the car park of Dr Suleiman Faqeeh Hospital which is directly across from the US diplomatic mission. When they moved in to investigate, “he blew himself up with a suicide belt inside the hospital parking”, the ministry said, adding that two security officers were lightly wounded.

In January, at least four people were killed in a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in the eastern al-Ahsa region.

In October, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a Shia mosque in Najran, in which at least one person was killed.

ISIL (also known as ISIS) had also claimed responsibility for an attack at a mosque inside a special forces headquarters in the city of Abha in August 2015. Fifteen people were killed in that attack.

(Source / 04.07.2016)

Saudi women reject US claim they are oppressed

WASHINGTON/JEDDAH: Several Saudi women have rejected claims by the US State Department that women are oppressed in the Kingdom, with daily discrimination experienced socially and in the workplace.

The claims were rejected by Lina Almaeena, founder and CEO of Jeddah United Sports Company, who said: “Women have gone through transformation all around the world, including the US, where (at one time) they could not vote or run in the Boston Marathon.”
“We (Saudi society] are evolving and we have come a long way, as now women are part of the Shoura Council (Consultative Assembly). It was unthinkable in the past. Change is a process and it is coming to Saudi Arabia,” she said in an interview with Voice of America.
Allen Keiswetter, a scholar at Washington’s Middle East Institute, agreed with the notion that change was coming to Saudi Arabia with regard to women’s rights but that it was slow. Access to education would increase opportunities for them, he was quoted as saying.
Thuraya E. Al-Arrayed, a member of the Shoura Council, told VoA that women have power in the consultative body. “The reports of all ministries that should go to the ministers, and then to the king, come to us. We read these reports carefully and see whether we agree with what they ask for. The decision of the king is based on what we advise.”
Ghadah Al-Ghunaim said many Westerners look at a women’s veil as a sign of discrimination but this was wrong. She said the veil, whether worn for religious or traditional reasons, was a sign of respect, and that the Virgin Mary wore the hijab.

(Source / 23.06.2016)

Last year’s disaster offers Saudis excuse to clamp down on hajj

Muslim pilgrims pray on Mount Mercy during the annual hajj pilgrimage outside the holy city of Mecca, Sept. 23, 2015

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef is preparing to assure this year’s hajj season of pilgrimage to Mecca is safe and not marred by a repeat of last year’s bloody stampede. As Iran is a major source of Saudi concerns about hajj security, Riyadh is shutting out Iranians in a move that also suits its efforts to delegitimize Tehran.

The crown prince is also the Saudi interior minister and responsible for security during the hajj. Last September’s stampede, in which over 2,200 people died, severely embarrassed the kingdom in general and the prince in particular. The Saudis insist the number of fatalities was much lower. The Wahhabi clerical establishment specifically exonerated the crown prince of any responsibility, arguing the stampede was an accident beyond human control. Some rumors about what really happened point fingers at royal family members seeking special favors, but nothing has been proven.

Nayef announced this month that the Interior Ministry has established the most sophisticated operations control room in the Middle East to monitor developments in Mecca. Some 18,000 closed-circuit TV cameras will be monitored around the clock by 1,600 security personnel. The technology will be state of the art, as the crown prince is known for using sophisticated technology to enhance security.

The security center will allow the ministry to avert crises and respond rapidly if they develop. There will be highly trained personnel who speak many languages — most will speak English — to help manage crowd control. Special attention will be paid to handicapped pilgrims. While the prince made no public reference to last year’s tragedy, it is clear the new National Center for Joint Security Operations is designed in part to prevent a recurrence.

The Saudis still remember the Iranian protests and demonstrations in 1987 during the Iran-Iraq War that led to another bloody pilgrimage season. Keeping Iran out of Mecca reduces the risk of protests over last year’s tragedy. The Saudis blame Iranians pilgrims for last year’s disaster.

The Saudis broke relations with Iran on Jan. 3 after Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, protests that came in response to the Saudi execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The break in ties now has the useful benefit of disrupting Iranian access to Mecca.

Saudi Arabia is escalating its campaign to delegitimize Iran and limit its influence in the Islamic world. Denying Iran access to the hajj is a handy way to do so. But the kingdom does not want to appear to be using the hajj to punish Iranian believers for political reasons. Riyadh wants Iran to be blamed for not following proper procedures to get hajj visas. With formal diplomatic relations severed, visa issues are inherently more complicated.

Iran complained more than any other country about Saudi security lapses last year. Tehran said the kingdom had failed to be a proper custodian of the holy mosques and should be removed from the hajj’s administration. A quarrel over visa procedures this year means Iranians may not be able to participate in the hajj, after 61,000 Iranians made the pilgrimage last year. That undoubtedly suits Riyadh just fine.

Since Riyadh cut ties with Iran, it has pressed other Muslim states to follow suit. Bahrain and Sudan did so immediately, while the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait withdrew their ambassadors. Jordan withdrew its ambassador in April just after a visit by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This week, the Maldives, which relies heavily on Saudi assistance, joined the boycott and broke as well.

Riyadh knows most Islamic states will not sever ties to Tehran, but if a number do follow the Saudis’ lead, Iran will lose face. Rather than ending its status as a pariah state following the nuclear deal with Western powers, Iran will still be out of the Muslim mainstream.

The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is intensifying, contributing to sectarian tensions in the region getting more violent and bitter. The sectarian strife has already reached unprecedented levels for modern times. It is almost certainly going to get worse.

(Source / 20.05.2016)

Saudi elections: Serious or just for show?

A woman leaves a polling station after casting her vote during municipal elections, in Riyadh, Dec. 12, 2015

Turnout was low for the third-ever election held in Saudi Arabia — and the first in which women were allowed to vote and run for office — but many consider the results significant.

Under the slogan “Take part in the decision-making process,” 703,000 Saudis cast their votes at ballot boxes Dec. 12 in races for 284 municipal councils. Voters were able to elect two-thirds of the total 3,159 council members; the minister of municipal and rural affairs appoints 1,053 members.

The minister himself is appointed by the king, who holds all political and religious authority in Saudi Arabia. The king, who is also the prime minister, appoints and dismisses senior officials such as regional governors, ministers, members of the Council of Senior Scholars and judges. The king’s powers even include setting the time for rain-seeking prayers.

Riyadh had previously made moves to improve its image with the international community. These included the decision of then-King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in September 2005 to establish the Human Rights Commission and his decision in September 2011 permitting women to join the unelected Shura Council.

In the Dec. 12 municipal elections, Saudi women were allowed to stand as candidates in the third round. Real developments were felt during these elections. Previously, half of the municipal council members were elected and half were appointed. This year, two-thirds were elected and one-third appointed. Women won 20 municipal seats.

During the first round of elections in November 2005, the Saudi government allowed the election of half of the 1,212 seats in 178 municipal councils; half were appointed. During the second round held September 2011, the competition was for half of the 1,056 seats of 285 municipal councils. Women were not included in either round of elections.

However, the Saudi government and its media outlets’ efforts, deployed through TV programs and forums and reflected in statements by officials, apparently failed to convince Saudis that the elections are considered participation in the decision-making process for state management and for the independence of the municipal councils and their ability to resolve citizens’ problems.

Municipal councils do not have executive powers independent from the minister of municipalities, who determines the number of members on each council based on a city’s size. Although two-thirds of the municipal council members are elected, these councils are technically considered affiliated with the Ministry of Municipalities. The mission of these councils is to consider the demands and complaints of citizens and monitor the municipalities’ activities and projects. The council then prepares reports that it submits to the minister, who accepts or rejects them.

The election drew only 47% of the kingdom’s nearly 1.5 million registered voters. Saudi Arabia has 28 million citizens. The low turnout raised several questions by those following the elections — including Saudi journalist Suleiman al-Oqiley, who is close to the Saudi authorities — on the real reasons Saudis refrained from voting. Was it due to the electoral system or because of the weakness of municipal councils’ powers?

It is probable that most Saudis did not vote in the municipal elections because it is a relatively new electoral experience and because of the weak political awareness of a large segment of the Saudi society that still applies tribal and religious concepts.

The low turnout also could have indicated a silent protest by a large segment of Saudi intellectuals and observers who do not see the usefulness of the current elections, just like they were not convinced of the need for the 2011 elections, when the turnout represented only 39% of eligible voters.

Saudis might have boycotted the elections because they were convinced by some human rights activists who demand constitutional monarchy and who believe the elections were only a useless formality under the absolute monarchy.

Saudi lawyer Abdulaziz al-Hussan wrote Dec. 12 on Twitter that the municipal elections are a media celebration for the despotic regime.

Yahya al-Asiri, president of the ALQST human rights organization, said on Twitter that the elections are a mere formality and women’s participation came only because of European pressure.

Sunni Saudi oppositionists residing in London also rejected the elections and the monarchy in Saudi Arabia. This opposition objects to the very existence of the monarchy and calls for replacing it with a popular elected regime.

Saad al-Fagih, a Saudi oppositionist living in London, described the municipal elections as an attempt to confer legitimacy to the Saudi rule. Fagih presides over the UK-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia.

Shiite Saudi oppositionist Ali al-Ahmed, head and founder of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, called for a boycott of the elections, describing them Dec. 11 on Twitter as an insult to the people’s dignity.

In light of the limited and late steps taken by Saudi Arabia regarding political participation and freedoms (such as appointing women to the Shura Council, holding partial elections for municipal councils and establishing a human rights committee), the Saudis do not expect bolder royal steps in the long run. Those steps would have included establishing institutions and elected bodies to monitor the government’s performance and hold it accountable before the Shura Council and the media.

To criticize the Saudi government is to criticize the prime minister, who is the king. The punishment would be either imprisonment or the death sentence. And to criticize the performance of the ministries of defense and interior is to criticize the crown prince, as both of these ministries are sovereign and headed by princes. Such criticism is prohibited in Saudi media and official institutions. Saudi journalists often limit their criticism to the service ministries, such as the ministries of health, municipal and rural affairs, and transportation, and to their respective ministers if they are not princes.

Dozens of Saudi women from among those who ran in the municipal elections were aware of the municipal councils’ lack of responsibilities and decision-making powers. These women faced numerous administrative and social impediments when they entered the elections.

Souad, a pseudonym, was a candidate for the municipal council in the city of Jeddah, on the west coast of Saudi Arabia. Al-Monitor asked her on the eve of election day if she thinks the government is serious in its initiative to involve citizens, especially women, in decision-making through municipal councils.

Souad said she believes Saudi decision-makers are not earnest about engaging citizens in the country’s administration. However, she added that she prefers to deal positively with all development and reform decisions, no matter how weak or slow.

“This is a safe first step for the advocates of political reform and human rights activists to continue their demands to put pressure on the Saudi government to take more efficient steps in the field of popular participation and state administration,” she said.

(Source / 22.12.2015)

20 Women Were Elected In Saudi Arabia As Women Voted For The First Time

Last Saturday in Saudi Arabia, twenty women were elected to public office in a landmark election.

History has been made! Last Saturday in Saudi Arabia, twenty women were elected to public office in a landmark election.

This was the first time women were allowed to vote, as well as the first time they were allowed to run for local municipal council seats. In total, 131,000 registered females showed up at the polling place to participate (in contrast to 1.4 million men).

Because Saudi women are still not allowed to drive, the female voters had to either rely on men to drive them to the polls or Uber. The transportation app offered a free ride to any ladies who needed to cast their votes on the big day.

Reports The New York Times, Riyadh, the conservative capital of Saudi Arabia, saw the most women candidates win, with four elected. The Eastern Province, where minority Shiites are concentrated, saw two women elected, and a small town where the Prophet Muhammad’s first mosque was built also elected a woman.

Credit: Business Insider

Of course, as TIME reports, women in Saudi Arabia haven’t really won – yet. There’s still a lot of progress to be made in the country, but small change is worth celebrating.

“This is a symbolic victory for women as these roles don’t come with much power,” said Joana Cook, a Middle East political analyst and the editor in chief of Strife, a journal on conflict at Department of War Studies at Kings College, London. “But absolutely it’s a stepping stone.”

Political reform began in 2011 when King Abdullah granted women the rights to hold office and participate in local elections. Years before, he also encouraged their pursuit of higher education and employment.

(Source / 17.12.2015)