x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Saudi women's rights body denied licence

In his opinion piece for the Saudi daily Al Watan, Abdul Rahman al Shalash said the Saudi ministry of social affairs made the right decision.

In his opinion piece for the Saudi daily Al Watan, Abdul Rahman al Shalash said the Saudi ministry of social affairs made the right decision when it recently refused to license a new association for the defence of women's rights. The ministry justified the rejection by stating that it was ready to cooperate with any organisation looking to serve both sexes indiscriminately.

The association's stated goals were to defend the rights of women in Saudi Arabia, improve their social and educational conditions, champion their right to drive and move about freely as well as guarantee their choice to conceal or show their faces in public. "Women have every right to take decisions for themselves, lead decent lives, receive education, pursue careers and be socially proactive. Religion guarantees these rights for all women," the writer says, "but traditions, customs and the 'shame code' undercut them severely."

The writer argued that the collective walkout of the founding members of the association during their very first meeting, which was rendered inconsequential following the ministry's rejection, mirrors the deeply-rooted conviction in Saudi society that only the state, never a civil rights body, can grant women the totality of their legitimate liberties.

"National consensus" is what actually causes the main glitch in the Lebanese parliamentary democracy, wrote Bassim al Jasr in the pan-Arab daily Asharq al Awsat. "This situation is due to the very composition of the Lebanese society, which is made of 18 religious sects, coupled with a multiplicity of political parties and leading figures with diverse agendas at home and tangled links abroad." In any other democracy around the globe, a clear parliamentary majority is synonymous with a comfortable formation of government and an automatic retreat of the minority parties to the opposition. In Lebanon, that is not the case.

The 71-seat majority that the March 14 Alliance, led by Saad al Hariri, scored in last June's parliamentary elections did not ease the process of forming a Lebanese government as yet, while the defeated Hizbollah-Amal-Aoun parliamentary bloc is still confidently calling for an executive body - variably labelled as "a national unity government" - based on the distribution of ministerial portfolios in proportion to the number of MPs.

What Lebanon really needs today is an effectively ruling government, not one that is irrationally obsessed with sectarian quotas, the writer said. National consensus is obviously laudable, but not to the detriment of a dynamic state.

Regularly, Islam is subject to attack or controversy; it is either linked to terrorism, condemned for its clothing choices or accused of anachronism, all of which say much about a certain foreign desire to tailor this religion to suit the western palate, commented Mohammed Kirat, dean of the school of communication at Sharjah University, in the Emirati daily Al Bayane. "Amid this intrinsic conflict between East and West, what would the option be: dialogue or confrontation?" Some maintain, in view of the stark imbalance in power relations between the two poles, that dialogue is absolutely pointless. However, if we concede that earnest exchange of ideas is a prerequisite for mutual tolerance, are media and cultural institutions in Arab and Muslim countries equipped with the necessary logistics, language and style essential to reaching out to the other?

Unfortunately, the current state of affairs tilts towards the negative, the writer says. "Religious authorities, namely Al Azhar, need upgrades to keep abreast of the 21st century's information revolution and digital societies." Dealing with the West should be carried through processes that the West can conceive. This entails modernising the Islamic discourse by creating progressive institutions specialised in building communication channels to convey an accurate, sophisticated image of Islam.

The London-based daily Al Quds al Arabi published an open letter by Youssef al Ghazal, a Libyan writer, to the US president Barack Obama, urging him to make sure he promotes American ideals before American interests. "We need the wisdom and principles of president [Thomas] Jefferson and the values and insights of the philosopher William James, not the imperial corporate interests of the Republican Party's tyrants," Mr al Ghazal said.

Giving priority to US interests over US ideals leads to the loss of both, whereas preserving the latter automatically guarantees both, this is the gem of what the Muslims, and perhaps the whole world, want from America. US citizens must feel shame whenever their country's veto is used, against the will of all the peoples who are part of the United Nations, simply to protect one single, radical state called Israel.

"The message of the Democratic Party, under your leadership Mr President, is to preserve the American tenets and principles hailed by the whole world," Mr al Ghazal wrote. Such principles stem from "individual human rights, peoples' right of self-determination, the protection of the environment and world cultures, and the respect of the different faiths and religions; this is the enlightened face of the American nation as we know it." * Digest compiled by Achraf A el Bahi AElBahi@thenational.ae