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Old 04-17-2005, 01:23 PM   #1
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Women: Revolutionaries in the Arab World

Women: Revolutionaries in the Arab World

By Emma Bonino | Thursday, April 14, 2005

In an increasingly globalized world, Arab societies can no longer be places where women are kept in the shadows and denied the ability to exercise their civil and political rights. Emma Bonino, the former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and now a member of the European Parliament, discusses the essential yet overlooked power of women in the Arab world.

P articipation in a global community requires that Arab men and women are treated equally — and Arab women themselves are increasingly requiring and increasingly acting on this.

Recently, a grandmother in Saudi Arabia dared to drive a car through the streets of Hail during the middle of Saudi Arabia's traffic awareness week.

Such a thing would have been unthinkable not so long ago, as discriminatory policies did not permit women to drive cars.

But now, women at long last are going to be able to apply for driving licenses, which is welcome evidence of policy and legal reform.

Give it a click for the rest of the story...

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Old 04-19-2005, 02:08 PM   #2
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A dated but not outdated 'Death of a Princess'

The 1980 docudrama is back on PBS with a new epilogue on the status of Saudi women's rights.

By Tony Perry
Times Staff Writer

April 19, 2005

When Saudi Arabia this year held municipal elections for the first time in four decades, women were barred from voting or running for office.

In a 4,500-word essay published in the (London) Guardian, feminist author Natasha Walter concluded recently that, "Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is no place in the world where women are more systematically deprived of freedom than they are in Saudi Arabia."

While Walter's absolutist view may be debatable, few in the West might disagree that the subservient role of women in Saudi Arabia is sharply at odds with that nation's preferred self-image as a modern state dedicated to economic growth and regional leadership.

For the United States, the issue pits this nation's dedication to global human rights against its desire to keep from angering the Saudi royal family by criticizing its maltreatment of women.

Twenty-five years ago, the clash between the image and the reality of Saudi society sparked an international furor with the broadcast of "Death of a Princess," a television docudrama telling of the execution/murder of a married princess and her adulterous lover.

Pieced together by reporter-filmmaker Antony Thomas, "Death" was shown first in England. Because almost none of the sources would agree to go public, Thomas used the docudrama form to explain how he tracked down the story in London, Paris, Beirut, Riyadh and Jeddah.

When PBS announced plans to show "Death" as part of its World series, the oil hit the fan. The Saudi government protested. So did big-time PBS underwriter Mobil Oil, and various U.S. politicians.

PBS refused to bow to the pressure and "Death" was shown in May 1980. Tonight, as part of the Frontline series, "Death of a Princess" will be rebroadcast with an updated epilogue about how much, or little, things have changed for women in Saudi Arabia.

To be sure, "Death" shows its age.

The docudrama form has evolved since 1980, and this early effort has a certain staginess and slowness. Given the disrepute of journalism these days it is unclear how much of "how I broke the big story" the public will care to consume.

But the power of "Death" to shock remains undiluted.

The story of a free-spirited 19-year-old who refused to lie about her forbidden love affair is still gripping. The deceit and misdirection the journalist encounters in chasing the story heighten the sense of tragedy when he finally uncovers at least a portion of the truth.

Despite the journalist's efforts, much about the princess and her lover remains opaque. One strength of "Death" is that it renders the sense of contradictions embedded in Saudi Arabia, or, by extension, the entire Arab world: so technologically modern yet so socially retrograde by most Western standards.

The prying journalist is told that the princess "committed a very grave crime against Islam. We are strict here. Not like your country, where burglars can come into your home and kill you and rob you and get the lightest punishment."

In the epilogue, Edward Walker, a longtime U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, urges tolerance for the Saudi government. If women had been allowed to vote, he says, it could have created a backlash against the government among religious conservatives.

Walker says that the crown prince promised him women will be allowed to vote next time. "He thought you had to take this thing one step at a time," Walker says.

Arab journalist Mona Eltahawy is not so forgiving or upbeat. In a paradoxical way, modernity is the enemy of women's equality in Saudi Arabia, she says.

"The more open and modernized you become, the tighter you must hold onto women in particular and children to show what a good Saudi you are or what a good Muslim you are," she says.

"And unfortunately, it's the women who pay."

'Frontline — Death of a Princess'

Where: KCET

When: 9-11 tonight

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Old 04-19-2005, 03:44 PM   #3
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Two interesting sides to the issue presented here...

I think while it is easy to find isolated incidents of women "bucking the system" and fighting oppression in the middle east and elsewhere, it is inherently class-related. The poorest of the poor don't have the luxury of fighting for equal (or even near-equal) rights. And while "modern" families may struggle to maintain patriarchal values, those women ultimately do have more choices and more freedom.

The troubling part is that development/modernization efforts in the near east and other parts of the world (and I'm talking economic development here) typically target men's activities and interests. Focusing on women's enterprises and small businesses can ultimately provide financial security...and that opens the door to greater freedom all the way around.

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