Thursday, September 28, 2017

Vote Your Conscience: vote for the resolution 36 to probe war crimes in Yemen

In 2016, Saud Arabia blocked an attempt in the UN Human Rights Council to send a UN commission to probe war crimes in Yemen. The oil-rich Kingdom used its political-economic leverage, intensively lobbied and eventually replaced an independent commission by a partial Yemeni one.

Again, In 2017, Saudis are intimidating/threatening with economic-diplomatic sanctions if the NEW resolution (#HRC36), proposed by Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg and Netherlands,- to send an inquiry over war crimes in Yemen - to be voted by member states.

Alas, instead of socialising Saudi Arabia with international human rights norms, they are forcing the international community to bow for their terms and avoid accountability.

Let's support Canada/Netherlands initiative to an independent and comprehensive probe into war crimes committed by all conflict parties in Yemen.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call/write a letter to your government, your foreign affairs department, your country representative to United Nations Security Council and ask them to vote for #YemenInquiryNow

Human rights should be more important than petrodollars.

Spread the Action!

Support the following human rights watchdogs NGOs, who are advocating/campaigning for an independent investigation into the ongoing war in Yemen:
- Mwatana Organization for Human Rights
- Amnesty International
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International Nederland
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My interview on Saudi Arabia's Decision To End Ban On Women Driving

As a former journalist in the Kingdom, I commented on the decision to lift the ban on women driving in #SaudiArabia @svt - Public Broadcasting Service in Sweden (In English). 


Saudi Arabia: Lifting the driving ban is a pragmatic decision rather than a belief in gender equality

When Hana Al-Khamri worked as a journalist in Saudi Arabia, she had to request from her male relatives to drive her around. The fact that women are allowed to drive a car is an important step forward, but she reckons that the decision is based on economic reasons rather than a belief in gender equality.

Working as a female journalist in Saudi Arabia is a challenge against social norms in a country governed by ultraconservative views. - But in order to get around, Hana Al-Khamri had to pay for a driver or ask a male relative to drive her.

"There were so many obstacles to free mobility. I was dependent on males permission to move around and sometimes it was humiliating to constantly ask someone to drive me, "says Al-Khamri, Middle East analysts raised in Saudi Arabia but currently living in Sweden.

She described the decision of allowing women to drive a car from June, as an outcome of a diligent campaign effort from activists. Many have been imprisoned in their quest to defy the ban.

But Al-Khamri believes that the decision is primarily pragmatic, from a regime that has been severely affected by the fall of oil prices.

- The main motive is economy rather than a belief in gender equality. The fall in oil revenues has prompted the state to realise that women need to come out to the workforce to mitigate the burden. And the ban on women driving has been a hurdle against participating in the labour market.

About one-third of the Saudi women's salary goes to private chauffeurs.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women can not drive a car. The issue of driving has been symbolic - because the greatest problem is the male guardianship system, which means that women have to get permission from male relatives in order to get different things done, such as working, studying at the university or applying for a passport.

It is unclear whether women have to request for male guardian permission in order to apply for driving licenses in 2018.

"The decision is historical and important, but Saudi women are still legally minors. And this is the main reason that shackles women's progress in Saudi Arabia, "says Al-Khamri.

Source: National New Agency in Sweden - TT

Snart kan saudiska kvinnor köra till jobbet

Idag blev jag intervjuad av TT om mitt liv i Saudiariben och konsekvernerna av att inte tillåtas köra bil. Att kvinnor får rätt att köra bil är ett viktigt steg framåt, men beslutet handlar mer om ekonomi än jämställdhet.

När journalisten Hana Al-Khamri jobbade i Saudiarabien var hon tvungen att be sina manliga släktingar om skjuts. Att kvinnor får rätt att köra bil är ett viktigt steg framåt, men hon tror att beslutet handlar mer om ekonomi än jämställdhet.

Att arbeta som kvinnlig journalist i Saudiarabien är i sig att utmana de normer som styr i det ärkekonservativa kungadömet. Men för att ta sig runt i landet behövde Hana Al-Khamri betala en chaufför eller be en manlig släkting att köra henne.

- Det fanns så många hinder för mig att röra mig fritt. Jag var beroende av män för att kunna resa runt och det kunde vara förödmjukande att hela tiden behöva be dem att köra mig, säger Al-Khamri, Mellanösternanalytiker som är uppvuxen i Saudiarabien men numera bosatt Sverige.

Beslutet att kvinnor får rätt att köra bil från och med juni beskriver hon som skörden av ett flitigt kampanjarbete från aktivister. Många har fängslats i sin strävan att utmana förbudet – som det konservativa prästerskapet har rättfärdigat med att det hindrar promiskuitet.

Men Al-Khamri tror att beslutet främst är pragmatiskt, från en regim som drabbats hårt av det sjunkande oljepriset.

- Det är snarare motiverat av ekonomi än en tro på jämlikhet mellan könen. De minskande oljeintäkterna har fått staten att inse att kvinnor behöver arbeta för att mildra bördan. Körförbudet har varit ett hinder för det.

Omkring en tredjedel av de saudiska yrkeskvinnornas lön går till transporter.

- Om du jobbar i handeln, där lönerna inte är så höga, går halva lönen till att bara ta sig till jobbet, sade en kvinnlig anställd som TT träffade på Ericsson i Riyad förra året.

Saudiarabien är det enda land i världen där kvinnor inte får köra bil. Frågan har varit symbolisk – men det stora problemet är fortfarande förmyndarsystemet som innebär att kvinnor behöver tillstånd från en manlig familjemedlem för att genomföra olika aktiviteter, såsom att lönearbeta, studera vid universitet eller ansöka om pass.

Det är oklart om kvinnor kommer att behöva fråga sin förmyndare om tillstånd för att ansöka om körkort.

- Beslutet är historiskt och viktigt, men saudiska kvinnor är fortfarande omyndiga enligt lagen. Det är den största orsaken till att kvinnor i Saudiarabien hålls tillbaka, säger Al-Khamri.

Source: TT

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Yearning to Drive: Saudi Women Struggle for the Right to Drive Car Dates back to 1990

I had the immense honour to meet the courageous Saudi feminist and fellow sister, Manal Alsharif منال الشريف, in Dubai where I got the opportunity to make an interview with her about life in the kingdom and the struggle for gender equality, including the fight against women driving ban. 

Alsharif defied the system and sat behind the wheel in a country where women are minors and cannot obtain an education without the approval of male guardian.

Now she released her powerful book Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening, about her life and the struggle for women's rights in "The Kingdom of Men". 

The interview Published at Daily Swedish SvD (In Swedish) 
The Interview below (In EnglishPublished at Zenith, an independent German magazine which focuses on the Arab and Islamic world.

With Manal Alsharif 

An atmosphere of tension, anticipation and anger hung over the Saudi capital of Riyadh amidst the Gulf War. Kuwaiti mothers fleeing the war entered Saudi territory, children in one hand and the other hand on the steering wheel. Half a million US troops landed on the Arabian Peninsula to protect the Kingdom from the repercussions of the war. American female soldiers in charge of military tanks passed through the streets of Riyadh, in full view of all its citizens.

When I entered the main compound of Aramco and watched women, for the first time in my life, driving bicycles and vehicles in the streets, I asked my driver: ‘Are we outside Saudi Arabia or what?’ These scenes were enough to provoke the imagination of the female intellectual elite of the Najd region, the birthplace of Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam. “Why are these women allowed to drive in our country, while we are banned?” This question, posed during a cultural meeting, spurred a group of women in the city to take a stand, deciding that they would drive cars themselves, cars otherwise driven by chauffeurs or male relatives.

November 6, 1990, was the historic date when 47 Saudi women organised the country’s first car demonstration in protest of the ban against Saudi women driving. The historic campaign ended with the arrest of the participants and a subsequent campaign of public defamation, slander and social ostracism. The women faced a number of punishments; some lost their jobs, others were expelled from school. All passports were confiscated.

Manal al-Sharif is one of those who challenged Saudi Arabia's prohibition on driving by women.

Manal al-Sharif is one of those who challenged Saudi Arabia's prohibition on driving by women. Photograph: Wikimedia
The Saudi authorities proved successful in cutting down the plant of the first Saudi women’s rights movement, but some of the roots remained alive. Twenty years after the November 6 demonstration, Saudi feminist and author Manal al-Sharif returned to water the seeds of that forgotten plant and renew the claim for the same right – this time during the heyday of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Al-Sharif urged women to join her Women2Drive campaign on June 17, 2011, using social media to advocate and reach her peers. She herself defied the ban by driving her brother’s car in Al-Khobar. She was stopped by traffic policemen and later imprisoned for nine days for violating the ban.

“I was interrogated about who was supporting me in my campaign, and if in fact the campaign was being organised and dictated by foreign entities,” she says with a sarcastic smile.

Six years after the terrible experience in prison, Manal Al-Sharif is an award-winning and well-known Saudi women’s rights activist. She has documented the events of 2011, which she calls the Saudi Women’s Spring, in her memoir Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening, published this year by Simon & Schuster. The book contains the story of the inception of the Saudi women’s protests in the Kingdom of Men, which is what she calls her home country.

You want a statement here is one: "Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop"  ❤️

Manal grew up as the second daughter of a working-class family in the holy city of Mecca. Her mother worked as a seamstress, while her father was a taxi driver. As an adolescent, Manal found refuge in her pen. She began questioning her reality: Why can my brother ride a bike, while I am forbidden from doing so? Why is my brother allowed to swim, while I am not? Why should I wear a black dress every time I leave the house?

“As a woman in Saudi Arabia, you have to co-exist with a long list of taboos,” Al-Sharif says as we sit in the lobby of a hotel next to her Dubai apartment.

But why live in Dubai? I ask her. “Because of my eldest son, Abdullah!” 

When Manal married for the second time, she lost custody of Abdullah. According to Saudi law, the father is granted custody of the child in the event of divorce, unless he voluntarily gives up custody to the mother of the child.

“Abdullah’s father forbids my son from visiting me abroad. For this reason I chose to live in a neighbouring country, so that I am able to visit my son.”

More than two years have passed since the birth of Daniel (Manal’s son with her Brazilian husband), but her two children have never met: as a Brazilian national Daniel has no right to enter Saudi Arabia, and 12-year-old Abdullah is not allowed to travel to see his mother.

“Imagine, Saudi Arabia is only an hour away from Dubai, but my children have never met each other.”

Manal feels torn by the reality of her children. She sighs and insists that she did not wish to leave the kingdom; she believes change must be made from within. But Saudi law left her with no choice but to leave. For these painful reasons, Dubai has become her safe harbour and her place of exile. [Manal has since moved to Australia.]

Manal begins talking about life as a woman in Saudi Arabia by recalling her studies at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah (about 45 minutes from Mecca). She describes her time there as disappointing, since the specialties open to female students were limited to a select number of scientific disciplines. She hoped to study nuclear physics, but this was not available to female students in public universities; neither were degrees in TV journalism or architecture.

During her first year in university, Al-Sharif discovered the Department of Computer Science by chance and reluctantly chose to enlist. She is now grateful that she entered the world of computers, as it paved the way for freedom. “The Internet became the safe space where I could raise questions of an existential or social nature, hiding behind pseudonyms.”

One time, Manal typed the question: “Why does the Lord forbid us from listening to music, when nature is in itself a symphony of creation?” It sparked a fierce debate on local Saudi Internet forums between those who accused her of lacking in faith and those who applauded her courage to challenge religious discourse. “I have often been accused of heresy, just because I dare to question social and religious rules shackling Muslim women.”

Manal feels grateful for having found the Internet at an early age, since the network gave her the opportunity to dive into diverse and tolerant views. She says it may even have saved her from becoming a terrorist.

She clarifies: “I have always loved to read, but the only books available to me when I was young were mainly free books distributed by religious extremists. These books were full of fanatical ideas such as prohibiting music.”

In addition, like all other students at public schools, she went through 12 years of mandatory religious subjects such as Monotheism, Jurisprudence and Quran Studies. Manal explains that the combination of the free books and indoctrination at school turned her into a religious fanatic, to the extent that she destroyed the music tapes of her two siblings, tore down all her drawings and burned fashion magazines that contained pictures of unveiled women.

“I was exposed to massive religious indoctrination that obliged me as a Muslim to fight against evil.” Music, painting and the female body, according to Saudi religious discourse, were dangerous sins that could sway people from the right path and lead them to damnation. When Manal burned, ripped and smashed – without the knowledge of her family – she thought she was protecting herself and her family from invoking the wrath and punishment of the Lord. “I was the victim of a rigid educational system that wanted to kill all my creativity and leave me full of fear.”

After graduating from university in 2002, Manal got the chance to work as an information security engineer at Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Manal was shocked when she visited the Aramco residential complex, which is separate and isolated from Saudi society and its strict laws.

“When I entered the main compound of Aramco and watched women, for the first time in my life, driving bicycles and vehicles in the streets, I asked my driver: ‘Are we outside Saudi Arabia or what?’" she laughs.

This was not the only contradiction Manal witnessed. During her arrest in 2011, she was forced to sign a pledge not to drive a car in Saudi Arabia as a condition of her release, yet she could continue to drive without repercussions while inside the walls and premises of the Aramco residential compound, where residents enjoy rights not available to the rest of the country.

In spite of all the difficulties and hardship Manal experienced following her divorce from the father of her eldest son, love bloomed between her and a Brazilian colleague. When the crises connected to her divorce seemed to have passed, they decided to marry. However, officials at the Saudi Ministry of Interior did their best to spoil her joy, refusing to give her the special permission needed to marry foreigners.

This made their relationship illegal under Saudi law, and in the end the couple was forced to leave the country and settle in neighbouring Dubai. However, Manal emphasises that the decision to leave was not only because of the marriage: “I found it very difficult to stay in Saudi Arabia because of the amount of social ostracism I was subjected to.”

Sometimes she was accused of betraying her country, and other times she was accused of being funded by European embassies. It went so far that her son Abdullah was beaten in school by children who discovered that he was the son of a ‘bad’ woman who would surely go to hell for having encouraged other women to drive cars.

“Saudi society is based on a culture of the herd. If a member of the herd tries to claim its basic rights, it will be immediately exposed to a campaign of public shaming, turning it into a social outcast.” The fear of social rejection deprives many people of the courage to ask questions and push for change, she says.

Hours before our conversation, Manal participated in the annual meeting of a campaign aimed at ending the male guardian system in Saudi Arabia. This system forces women in the country to be entirely dependent upon male relatives – husband, brother or even teenage son – and to seek their consent to enrol in education, travel abroad or get a passport.

A group of Saudi women gathered in Dubai to plan the campaign this year. Manal is filled with joy at meeting Saudi women from different parts of the Kingdom to discuss the best ways to claim their rights as citizens. She points to the ‘I Am My Own Guardian’ plastic bracelet on her wrist, produced by the women’s rights activists as part of their campaign, and takes a picture for Twitter, where she has thousands of followers.

The weather in Dubai is very hot – 38 degrees Celsius. Manal is wearing a short summer dress that reveals her legs and arms. I ask if I can take a picture of her. She immediately refuses. “If the picture were to spread on the Internet, religious clerics would use it to alienate other members of Saudi society from me.”

Her answer explains why she wears a hijab on the cover of her book. “I want to be able to reach all parts of society, so it is important for me to appear publicly in a manner that is acceptable to all members of society, especially those that disagree with me, so I do not lose the opportunity to address them.”

Manal’s biggest challenge right now is to find a job. “I have applied to 47 job openings, and not one of them has been willing to hire me.” She says she faces a campaign aimed at making her life hell, but she insists on continuing the struggle. She refuses to live in a society with a system of discrimination similar to that which once existed in the United States.

“If you compare the situation of Saudi women today with the situation of African-Americans 50-60 years ago, you will find a great number of similarities.” 



Idag publicerar SvD Kultur min intervju med den saudiska feministen Manal Alsharif منال الشريف som trotsade systemet och satte sig bakom ratten i landet där kvinnor är omyndiga och inte får utbilda sig utan en manlig förmyndares godkännande. Nu är hon aktuell med en bok om sin kamp för kvinnors rättigheter i "Männens monarki". 


أتيح لي الشرف العظيم للقاء الأخت الشجاعة والنسوية السعودية، منال الشريف، في دبي حيث سنحت لي الفرصة لإجراء مقابلة معها حول الحياة في المملكة ورحلة النضال في سبيل المساواة بين الجنسين.

نشرت الصحيفة اليومية السويدية (اس في دي) المقابلة معها اليوم بمناسبة إطلاق كتابها الجديد، القيادة نحو الحرية.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Yemen is in a Political Deadlock

On the 7th of September, I was interviewed live on the Swedish Public Radio about the political situation in Yemen. Below is a summary of the questions and my answers: "Yemen is in a Political Deadlock"

Is there any sign of a resolution to this war?

Sadly, I do not see any such signal. Currently, there is a political a deadlock; too many actors are contributing directly or indirectly to the continuation of the war. Powerful actors like the United States and the United Kingdom, have sold weapons worth billions of dollars to the Saudis, and this exacerbates the conflict. There are no signs of resolutions but there are possible resolutions.

What are the different solutions to this conflict?

I believe that powerful countries and institutions, such as the EU, have good opportunities to contribute to the end of the war. Let me give you three examples of actions that may be taken to hopefully put an end to the war.

Stop the sale of weapons to the parties of the conflict. Last year, the European Parliament adopted a good and important resolution for an embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. However, the resolution is not binding and the sales of weapons have therefore continued.

Put pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the bombings. The parties must come to the negotiating table. An increasing number of Saudi observers realise that the Kingdom cannot win this war. With the right pressure, a Saudi withdrawal can become a reality.

Give Oman a central role in peace talks. Oman is the only country in the Gulf that is not part of the conflict in Yemen. The country has also good contacts with the various parties to the conflict. So these can be prerequisites for initiating a peace process.

Al Qaeda's presence in Yemen?

Al Qaeda is active in the southern part of Yemen. There is an issue with extremist groups in Yemen and of course, they are currently exploiting the chaos created by the war to grow stronger. But the world's must focus on ending the war and responding to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, only if we deal with these issues, it then becomes possible to combat extremist groups in an effective and sustainable manner

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

أول حكم نسائي عربي في الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا

منصور :" أنا سلطة تنفيذية في قلب الملعب ولااتونى في توجيه الكروت الحمراء "
بعد احتراف كرة القدم ودخول عالم التحكيم تطمح بإطلاق صافرتها في كأس العالم

هناء الخمري _جدة - 2007 
انطلقت صافرة نهاية إعلان المباراة من الحكم العربي الدولي الصافرة هذه المرة تحملها (( امرأة )) هي أول حكم نسائي في الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا.  امرأة لاتفارقها الصحف الرياضية، الأزياء الرياضية والكرة وعلم الفيفا وصور المباريات التي شاركت وحكمت فيها وصورة لأول منتخب نسائي مصري كل ذلك يحيط بها ، حلمها العظيم هو التحيكم في كأس العالم بعد أن شاركت في بطولات دولية هذا هو عالم أول حكم نسائي في مباريات كرة القدم التي مازال يسيطر عليها (الرجال) . المنصور تحمل لقب الفتاة العربية المثالية الرياضية في الوطن العربي ، وهي كذلك عضوه في أنشطة اجتماعية وخيرية ، وأمين عام ( بجمعية محبى الكرة المصرية ).

شيماء منصور عشرينية من القاهرة امرأة رياضية منذ نعومة أظفارها وحتى آخر قطرة طالبة في كلية الخدمة الاجتماعية ولاعبة محترفة سابقا في أول فريق نسائي مصري لكرة القدم وأصغر عضو في " الفيفا " تكاد تشتم رائحة الرياضة عند الحديث معها تصر على أنها امرأة " فالرياضة أضافت لي كإمراة وساعدتني على الحفاظ على جسدي وعقلي" ...... لكنها تحذر بأنها حكم لاتتواني في فرد كروت حمراء وصفراء في وجه أي لاعب كقوة تنفيذية في قلب الإستاد الرياضي. "من المواقف التي تعرضت لها هو أن أحد اللاعبين تفاجئ بوجودي لكنه سلم بالأمر فالإتحاد المصري يدعم قرارتي ووظيفتي كحكم دولي لكرة .. الكروت الحمراء منحتها سواء لمعاقبة سوء السلوك اللفظي والجسدي تجاهي أو تجاه غيري"
شيماء تستمر في تطوير نفسها عبر حضور المبارات والمنافسات الودية ووتمنى أن تبلغ التحيكم في بطولة كأس العالم .. "لكن أكثر ما أريد أن أشدد عليه هو أن تمارس كل امرأة الرياضة وتجعله جزء من اهتمامها اليومي."

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Page from my Diary in Saudi Arabia

This is a page from my diary about life and upbringing in Saudi Arabia. 

I was 15-year-old. I love drawing and painting. The teacher of Monotheism (a religious subject) in my high-school foist her narrow interpretations of Sunni Wahhabi orthodox, - saying that it is a form of idolatry to draw/depict images of human beings. "Whoever makes a picture will be punished by Allah (God)". She declares and emphasises that I would be severely punished and burn in hell. My brown eyes brooding out of fears. I go home and write the following in my diary " There is a question: why would God bestow the talent of drawing on me if it is Haram (forbidden)?! ... I will listen to the voice of reason not the voice of others" 

Hana, Jeddah-Saudi Arabia (2002)

This is a page from my diary about life and upbringing in Saudi Arabia (In Arabic)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Yemen: the grim pictures of war are worth more than words

The story of the orphaned baby girl Bouthania al-Rimi, who lost her entire family in a Saudi-air strike, is another reminder of the failure of my Yemeni generation - particularly those who are based aboard, and in exile - to bring an end to this miserable war. As the din of war grows louder and one child dies every five minutes, we young Yemeni abroad are in a mood of insular, divided and we offer nothing but words and analysis that rings hollow. Again, we fail to act and mobilise for peace.

Yemeni intransigence elite are busy in bare-knuckle fights and political gains, and they are in discard to the unfolding humanitarian misery, meanwhile, young elite aboard are confined in social media campaigns, and riding media streams but do not bother to make the weather for peace.

Yemen is in a sorrowful condition and the country looks as fragile bloody and pitiful as ever. The ongoing war is grinding and vicious. The rhetoric and efforts for war are in an ample supply but we suffer paucity for the peace movement.

This is not a desperate post to vent frustration but rather a hope to prick consciences, break our dismal state of affairs and drum up support in the struggle for peace. Sadly, the grim pictures of war in Yemen are worth more than words. It is worth an action for peace!