Saudi daily's rare criticism of social taboos

A female writer in a key Saudi newspaper has launched a rare criticism of her Gulf country’s conservative social system and taboos on many activities, saying a life-long ban on gender mixing is only increasing sexual abuse in the country and expecting an end to a ban on driving cars by women.

In an article in the Arabic language daily ‘Al Jazirah’, Lubna Khamis cited statistics in the UAE and Qatar showing the number of Saudi women who apply for a driving license in those two countries increases every year.

She said some newspaper reports have shown that most of the people who visit cinemas in Bahrain are Saudis, and that a large number of Saudis browse clips on YouTube and some of them produce short films.

There are also reports that some entertainment companies in neighboring countries eagerly await the Kingdom’s National Day so that they can hold elaborate parties  for the large number of Saudi customers who travel abroad to celebrate the day, she said.

“Of course, all of the above mentioned activities are forbidden within the borders of the Kingdom, and in fact some sections of Saudi society are strongly opposed to such events ever being held in the Kingdom citing the nation’s religion and social customs.”

She said that she had travelled to the Philippines and enrolled in a driving school, adding that a female instructor asked her: “What is the use of a driving license when you return to the Kingdom?”

“This question bewildered me for a moment. Then, I regained my presence of mind and replied: ‘It will be useful for me when the ban on women driving is finally lifted’.”

Khamis also referred to a ban on Christmas celebrations but added that there are noisy weekend concerts inside homes where the attendees compete with each other on the size of the cakes and the amount of elaborate decorations and balloons.

Ornate abayas are also prohibited, and so shops are forced to sell them secretly with women customers reassuring salesmen with the words: “Dear friend, I am a customer.”

“Women are separated from men and the two genders are prevented from mixing except under certain strict conditions and surveillance, but this has only resulted in increasing sexual abuse,” she said.

“If one drives 10km outside the borders of the Kingdom’s major cities, he can see youths engaged in entertainment at rest houses, smoking shisha with music that is not allowed in cafes inside the city. Here we see the stark double standards and long and exhausting contradictions,” she added.

“Through this article, I do not intend to reject reality. I am also not calling for abandoning tradition and destabilising the value of customs in Saudi culture.

“All I am trying to do is throw a stone in a stagnant swamp which is not only stagnant but lazy and doesn’t want to think. It only wants to live with these contradictions in peace and it convinces itself that this safeguards our religion and contributes to promoting our privacy without the involvement of the outside world.”

 

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