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A Woman-Only Cinema - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A 118-word news report by the Associated Press [AP] which was published by a number of international newspapers revealed that Qatar has decided to open the first women-only cinema in the Middle East. Some might say: very well, what’s important about this news item? The answer is that this news has a number of implications, and is important in several regards…

Firstly is its media importance, for the second part of this news item –which was published by the majority of international news outlets – contained the claim that the opening of a women-only cinema in Qatar serves as evidence that Gulf States are “catering” to [Islamic] customs and tradition [with regards to gender segregation]. The news item also reported that in the UAE, for example, the state-run taxi company has women-only cabs with female drivers to cater solely to female customers. The news report then went on to cite Saudi Arabia as being the only country in the region that “follows strict Islamic customs that keep the sexes from mingling!” The question here is: why is it that most regional countries “cater” to [Islamic] customs and tradition, while it is Saudi Arabia that is viewed as extremist? This is where the political story begins…

The answer to this is very simple, namely that there is a constant instigation against Saudi Arabia, along with a prolonged delay in dealing with local issues [such as this]. The process of development does not mean running away from [Islamic] customs and traditions, while it also does not mean clashing with society at large. Rather, what we require is practical solutions [to such issues], for there is an urgent social, health, and security need for this. As for the issue of the women-only cinema in Qatar, the Qataris have succeeded in catering to the special characteristics of their own country and people, without using the term “special characteristics”. They have also succeeded in passing this issue [establishing a women-only cinema] quietly and calmly, without attracting [political] trends or further complicating the issue, particularly as cinemas in Qatar are open to everybody. However this women-only cinema is being established to accommodate a component of society [women] that has a right that deserves be respected [to attend women-only cinemas] for whatever reason; for you cannot force people to do something that they do not want to, especially if this issue has nothing to with the law, even if this is over something that should be agreed on by all. Therefore, the role of the state is to encourage and prepare its citizens through persuasion and providing alternatives, rather than through clashes, and this is something that is very important however eager we are for progress.

As for the issue of cinema itself, satellite television today allows everything into our homes today, whether it is acceptable or not acceptable, and we have no way of controlling this. However there are betters ways to create integrated programs that serve the nation and citizens, particularly the youth. Before this, the neighborhoods in Saudi Arabia – before they became suburbs – each included a mosque, school, restaurant, grocer, and football field; these were all integrated [in each neighborhood] during this period of time. However today, in light of the [urban] growth and expansion, our neighborhoods have become suburbs and are no longer as they were in the past. Therefore, in order to serve the social, health, and security interests of our society, we must cater to each neighborhood that is in need of integrated parks – including all kinds of sporting fields – as well as catering to women and children. There is also a need for cinema catering to youth and families, and even women, along the Qatari example, and so on.

This issue is not one of extravagance; rather we must look at this from the perspective of serving the social, heath, and security interests of our society, according to our customs and traditions, and this includes protecting women and children. In New York, for example, there is a special security apparatus that focuses on parks [Department of Parks and Recreation], therefore there are numerous solutions [to any given issue], however the problem lies in the delay in dealing with this, which converts every issue into a controversy that tolerates no argument.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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