Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Defending the “Condemned” - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

The popular Saudi television series, ‘Tash Ma Tash’, could be representative of daily events in Saudi, the prevailing mood in that country and issues that preoccupy Saudi society and could help any future historian understand “the-then” Saudi Arabia and its people. Therefore, ‘Tash Ma Tash’ is a collection of works about Saudi Arabia, just as poetry was for the Arabs, deemed representative of social and cultural works before it became mere poetry.

In an episode called ‘The Condemned’, we watched as a serious problem within Saudi society, namely, the condemnation of women was highlighted. In the episode, the condemned one was a divorced woman named Al Anoud. Her siblings tried to force her to marry a man who they had chosen for her in order to get rid of her. Her elder brother, Rashed, had said that she is a “burden”. The wise girl had only the support of her elderly father who was not harsh towards women and who was, in fact, proud of his daughter.

He assured her that he would remain on her side and would not support her siblings against her and would give her the freedom of choice in respect to marriage. After a series of events, the girl finds herself in an awkward position. It begins when she accompanies the children of her family on a shopping trip to the supermarket. Suffering from a bad headache (in a clever reference to the idea that women give society a headache and vice-versa), she could not continue to shop or to escort the children, so she decided to go and rest in the car until the children had finished. Coincidently, the same car as hers was parked outside the supermarket. The owner of the car had gone into the supermarket and had forgotten to lock the car doors. She gets into the wrong car and falls asleep. The owner of the car returns and gets into the car, not realising that somebody else is in there and heads towards the desert for a drive. Suddenly, his car gets stuck in the sand. Suddenly, Al Anoud wakes up to find herself alone with a strange man in the desert. She starts screaming and is shocked and so too is the owner of the car, “Yusuf” (played by Abdullah Sadhan; the name ‘Yusuf’ indicates absolute chastity despite any temptation).

The father (played impressively by Mohamed al-Tawian) becomes worried about his daughter and asks the driver and the children as to her whereabouts but to no avail. He decides to tell her brothers. They become angry and voice their suspicions about their sister, however the father insists on defending her. Al Anoud (the name of a type of dear that is difficult to catch) talks to Yusuf cautiously, trying to understand what happened. Yusuf speaks to her with no presumable sign of male weakness. Hungry, he eats some ‘Kalija’ and offers some to Al Anoud while she sits in the car and he sits on ground (Kalija is a traditional najdi food, a type of dried bread, that perhaps here is a symbolic reference to the fact that these two characters were brought up well based on traditional ethics that neither would violate).

As the events unfold, Al Anoud’s elder brother (played by Nasser al Qassabi, who wore notably darker clothes in comparison to his on-screen brothers representing the darker side of Saudi culture) insisted on carrying out the most horrific act and decided to get rid of such dishonour that tainted them even if Al Anoud (played by Zahra Arafat) did not do anything wrong. We then see the father on his deathbed, painfully entrusting his sons to take care of their sister. But the elder brother shows no consideration for his father’s request, unlike his other brother Rashed (played by Abdul Ilah al Sanani, and whose on-screen name means returning to wisdom). The girl goes back to her family home. Realizing that she would be killed, she entrusts her niece ‘Raghad’ who is the daughter of her elder brother, to take care of her son if anything happens to her, (perhaps this was an indication of hope for the future and the new generations that are not tainted by the distorted view of women). After the elder brother enters the room holding a knife to kill his sister and do away with the “supposed” dishonour, his other brother, Rashed stops him at the last minute, (I believe that the ending was somewhat fabricated).

I know that I have spoken at great length about the episode. However, my reason is that it was well written and sincerely acted out. In this regard, we thank the writer, Abdul Rahman al Wabli, since the issue of women is a significant one and it (the episode) is suggestive of the extent of our society’s embroilment in women’s issues.

There is irrational sensitivity towards women and towards their appearances in public life and even towards their basic rights. Women are invisible in the realms of politics, education, journalism, judiciary and all walks of public life. Society lives under a strong barrier of gender separation.

War against women has only been waged by the fundamentalists; in fact, perhaps fundamentalists are more civilized in many cases in comparison to a more stubborn and harsh trend, that is, the social trend. All those who deal with women with apprehension and tension, do not necessarily derive their reasons from religious perspectives. This is clear since we see that many of the supporters of imprisoning and harassing women and marginalizing their roles, as well as denouncing whoever raises the issue of women and their rights as infidels or traitors or calls for stoning them, are those who probably have never stepped into a mosque or those who do not care for the other ideas of Islamists and religious individuals regarding other issues, for example the economy. We find a person fighting against women uncovering their eyes even though she is wearing the full hijab! He might also object to her working in a ministry or company needing a fatwa first from some religious scholar or another. On the other hand, the same person could not care less about the fatwas that are issued by the same sheikh in which he prohibits buying shares of a certain company. In such case, this person searches, if the issue is important to him, for another sheikh who would provide him with a more lenient fatwa! In this case, we ask: who is leading who?!

Whoever calls for eliminating the oppression that is practiced against women is not requesting that Saudi women become like their European counterparts. This is not the case and it is some sort of deliberate confusion. Whoever calls for doing justice to women obtains his reasons from the reality on the ground.

I will cite some examples in this regard:

The percentage of working Saudi women does not exceed 5.7% of the total labour force, while the ratio of women to men in the total population reaches 49% according to the existing statistics and according to Dr. Jowhara al Anqari, member of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, in her dialogue with Womengateway.com.

Spinsterhood among Saudi females has reached frightening levels; experts state that around 2 million Saudi women are spinsters. Accordingly, social experts pointed out that “mechanisms to meet a suitable wife in light of urbanization have become non-existent,” (as reported by Saudi newspaper Al Watan, 15 September 2007).

We will not discuss real life cases of women having to deal with legal proceedings or hiring a lawyer. There is also the absence of her independence because of the dilemma of the “[male] guardian” and the “[male] representative” with no consideration whatsoever for women who have no “guardian” or “representative” and who are “helpless”.

In short, the percentage of women and the level of education that they receive (and we are not talking about those who have been sent on scholarships or those living abroad) and the complexity of life and the needs of families and women, is not consistent with the quality of the dominant culture in dealing with women. Furthermore, the conditions of work facilities, both governmental and private, do not welcome women. So where should the women go?!

This culture is not even based on the culture of elders such as Al Anoud’s father in the “Tash Ma Tash” episode in which he cited the poetry of Humaidan al Shuwayer, a poet who is considered one of the symbols of popular culture, whereby he warns fathers against throwing their daughters away and undervaluing them simply for the sake of marriage.

What kind of culture is that which stifles women? The conditions of women during the Prophet’s era were not as bad as today’s. Even the age of Humaidan al Shuwayer who lived in Najd and died in 1180 witnessed better conditions for women than at present. Is it a warped and premature culture in which we live?

Perhaps so, but distorted growth can only lead to deformities; this is what the facts of society tell us and this is why we will only reap “more” thorns.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

More Posts