Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011



It happens every day...in homes all over the world.  It's morning and Moms have to get their kids ready for school.  They pack up lunches.  They brush tangles out of their daughter's hair.  They remind their kids not to forget their homework.  Then, when everything is ready, they all head to the garage and jump into car and drive down the street to school.  Yep, this scenario pretty much happens everyday, in every city, in every country, around the world.   That is...in every country but one...THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA.

Things are different in Saudi Arabia.  You see, last week in the Eastern city of Khobar, this exact same thing happened.  The woman driving the car is MANAL AL-SHARIF.  She's a 32 year-old IT employee with two kids.  About five blocks into her commute, she was pulled over by Saudi police.  She was arrested, taken into custody and remains in jail today.  Her crime is "Violating a Public Order," or Royal Decree No. 50/2.  This vague, all-encompassing sentence is heavily used in the vast desert wasteland known as the SAUDI JUSTICE SYSTEM.  If you thought Egypt's judicial system was bad, (See earlier blog: Everybody Hates Hosni Mubarak) at least in Cairo there is a pretend courtroom!  In Saudi Arabia, there are are simply no buildings where "trials" take place.  The nation is ranked near the last in the international human rights standings.

Anyhow, international groups like AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, the HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH and the DUNER BLOG are all busy keeping tabs on Mrs. Sharif and her fate. Why? Because back in 1990 an incident very similar to Manal's happened in the Saudi capital.  In a coordinated protest, forty-seven women took to the streets in a flotilla of Volvos, Mercedes and Toyotas causing chaos all over RIYADH.  Like Manal, the ladies were arrested and jailed with little international attention.  It's  what happened afterward that has everyone concerned.  These horrible criminals were shamed, convicted, served jail time and were not allowed to work for three years.   Even today, all 47 women are still banned from ever leaving the Kingdom.  So we'll see what lies next for for our budding activist, MANAL AL-SHARIF, but it's not looking good.  It's highly unlikely she'll will be freed anytime soon.

Okay, it's easy for someone in the West to get on their high horse and turn MANAL AL-SHARIF into some modern-day ROSA PARKS!  So let's look at the other side of the coin.  Up until thirty years ago, her city of Khobar was a remote fishing village on the Persian Gulf.  Not surprisingly, it has been largely ignored throughout time.  Sure, it was under the "control" of a sultan in far-off Baghdad, Cairo or Constantinople...but the real power has always been under the mighty, ultra-conservative, ultra-Islamic SAUD FAMILY.  With their strict adhiration to WAHHADISM and SHARIA LAW, they have managed to turn a god-foresaken place like Khobar into a pretty decent place to live...while the rest of the world revels in debauchery.  So even a hint of change is viewed as "sinful," according to local cleric ABDEL-RAHMAN AL-BARAK.  He fears people like Manal are "opening the doors of sin" and should be punished.

For the time being, let's just hope Adbel and Manal can manage to come to a compromise...especially by JUNE 17TH.  Why?  Because, that's the date Manal's ONLINE CAMPAIGN has chosen for the first ever SAUDI WOMEN'S DRIVE-IN DAY (or something like that). On this upcoming Friday, ladies all over Arabia are encouraged to stand up to the establishment by getting behind their (steering) wheels of freedom and drive to the promised land.  "We want to live as complete citizens, without the humiliation that we are subjected to every day because we are tied to a driver,” her Facebook message reads. “We are not here to break the law or demonstrate or challenge the authorities, we are here to claim one of our simplest rights."  Sound interesting,
ladies? Well, you too can help Manal.  You see, Saudi law forbids all women (including foreigners) from operating motor vehicles.  So what are you waiting for, girl?  Get yourself on a plane to RIYADH, rent yourself a car and have the joyride you'll never forget! 

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