Debate in Saudi Arabia over Women in Media

A debate has arisen in Saudi Arabia after the a group of 35 traditionalist Muslim clerics called on the country’s newly appointed culture and information minister,’Abd Al-‘Aziz Khoja, to carry on what they define as a “moralization campaign” against women in the Saudi Arabia’s media system.

In a recently issued communiqué, the clerics complained that the visibility of women in the media contravened shari’a as well as Saudi law. A form of contamination of Saudi society with secular and perverted ideas they are determined to stop.

Their attack was replied by two of Saudi Arabia’s major reformist writers, columnist ‘Ali Sa’d Al-Moussa and liberal Saudi writer Sami Jassem Al-Khalifa. The former published a satirical open letter to the minister, in which he parodied the clerics’ appeal and condemned their religious extremism, while the latter called to increase women’s visibility in the media, and to promote pluralism in Saudi society.

The communiqué, which appeared in the Saudi press and websites, addressed Minister Khoja, saying that “we have high hopes that you will reform the media in accordance with Allah’s will. We have become aware of a deviant tendency that has taken root in the culture ministry,  in TV, radio and the press, in literary conferences and at book fairs”

The clerics are astonished by the active role the culture ministry is playing in promoting a campaign of Westernizing Saudi women, pushing them to remove their veil, wear jewelry, and mingle with men. More in general, according to the clerics’ claims the ministry is opening the door to the liberal ideas. The ministry permits the airing of “music and songs and the publishing of images of women. It is also training women and female singers, and making an effort to allow men and women to mingle in the ministry building.” In addition, it permits the circulation of licentious papers and magazines, which contain perverted ideas and present sensuous pictures of women on their pages and covers.

“These things are undoubtedly forbidden. They violate official Saudi laws and royal decrees pertaining to the media, from which nobody is exempt.”

“The debate around the role of women in modern Arab and Muslim society has been going on for quite a few years, now,” says Franco Cavalleri, director of CSST- Developmental Studies and author of many books about Islam and the role of women.

“Despite the very little attention Western media give to the gender issue in Muslim countries, women all across Northern Africa and the Middle East have been gaining more and more rights over the past few years.”

No doubt they are still well behind their Western counterparts, but over the years they have gone a long way.

“These attacks are a clear symptom of the fear radical Muslims and clerics feel: they do see the world is changing around them, they understand it is slipping off their hands and out of control and try to scare the weakest minds telling stories of perversion, corruption of habits and loss of cultural identity.”

The more Muslim countries and societies come in touch with the outer world, the more the younger generations learn the Western way of life.

“Real estate development projects like those in Dubai and the other Gulf Emirates are the key to open all closed doors. Culture mix travel on the wings of economical development.”


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