Saudi women traveling solo can now stay in hotels

Travel and Lifestyle Press Releases Tuesday January 22, 2008 10:26

Women in Saudi Arabia can now stay in a hotel or a furnished apartment without a male guardian, Al Watan newspaper reported. This, following a government decision that comes as the country faces increasing criticism for its severe restrictions on women. The daily paper, deemed close to the Saudi government, reported Monday that a circular from the Saudi government authorizing hotels to accept lone women as long as their information is sent to a local police station.

The decision was adopted after a study conducted by the Saudi Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Commission of Tourism and the religious police authority known as the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, reported the Al Watan.

This is one big step for millions of oppressed Saudi women, and those who reside or work there as expatriate workers or wives of guest/contract workers - Muslim or not.

Although traditional roles of women in Saudi Arabia have changed through the years, alongside the kingdom's modernization, most customs have remained as they were many centuries ago. Most Saudi women live in privacy and wear the veil outside the home. They can never be seen unveiled even inside their home by men outside their immediate family. Visitors are warned not to ask or insist women to remove the head cover.

In their secluded life, they often view the outside world through the closely carved wooden screened balconies that allow them the advantage of seeing but not being seen, much as their eternal screens, the veil and cloak, provide. At their homes, visitors are segregated according to gender in separate rooms. Females don't mingle with males, said Al Baab's Susan Al Gahtani. A practical handbook on proper conduct in the KSA stresses one should not insist an Arab to bring his wife to any social gathering. There are two separate social groups who do not intermingle in public gatherings.

Guest workers of the Kingdom have to conform to stringent laws under the Islamic code, otherwise run the risk of arrest or deportation. All women are not allowed to drive in Saudi, not even bicycles. Airlines warn women not to stare at men, and vice versa. Men must not express admiration for a woman unless she is a fiancée. Women are advised to avoid going out alone for their own safety and security; not talk intimately with their husbands or go out with male friends, provided they maintain a distance from each other.

Traveling alone for women indeed represents advancing modernization and paving for more liberal reforms. If this is one way for Saudi Arabia to keep US interests alive, then good for the local women. Indeed, KSA has always tried to keep the harmony with the USA.

After all, we're talking investments in trillions of dollars - that is a thousand billion dollars, which makes up almost eight percent of the size of the American economy. This means that Saudi Arabia is capable of dealing a blow to the American economy at any moment if it decides to withdraw its investment and its business there. "The Saudis were a country lingering in the shadow and not expecting the world to turn to it. But suddenly, Saudi Arabia found itself in the spotlight with all countries trying to woo it. As a result, the Saudis found themselves in a dilemma that they, to this day, cannot solve: Should it respond to the demands of transformation to modernity on its land or should it hold on tight to its ancient traditions and customs that have united it but without allowing it to develop?" asked Sawt Al-Umma's Yousra Zahran.

The discovery of oil even amplified that Saudi pride. Oil gave Saudis an overwhelming feeling of strength; that they could force others to submit to their will. But the fluctuation of oil prices caused Saudis to suffer from more instability in their psychology and their character. According to American journalist Sandra McKay, wife of an American diplomat based in KSA for four years in the 80s, the Saudis no longer knew if they controlled the world or if the world plays with them.

McKay who wrote the book The Saudis said: "Saudi Arabia uses its oil not to achieve economic gains as much as to dominate the world. The arrogance that characterizes the Saudi mentality angers Westerners and prevents the Saudis themselves from moving forward. It also imprisons Saudi women behind cages for fear that they [women] might squander the honor of their men. Each time Westerners go to Saudi Arabia, they are shocked by the strength of the chains imposed on women."

McKay explained that these chains are an attempt to prevent Saudi women from committing vices and is not aimed at protecting them. She describes Saudi society as a society obsessed with sex and that imposes dozens of taboos on itself only to break them. That it is a society that tries to get everything without losing anything. Youths are trying to break everything imposed on them by their elders and the seniors are not willing to admit that they have lost control over their youth. For McKay, Saudis are people who excel at hiding their fears and doubts behind masks of civilization, but this ability to hide quickly disappears with the appearance of any sign of threat to their future and their financial security.

Christina Al Sudairi is half-American, half-Arab who was born in Monterey, California to a Saudi father Mohamed bin Khaled from Riyadh. Christina is an Al-Sudairi. Her grandfather Khaled, once the Minister of Agriculture and the governor of the province of Najlan, was uncle to the current king. Sheikh Khaled's sister - her great aunt, the late Sheikha Hessa bint Ahmed Al Sudairi - was the mother of King Fahd bin Abdulaziz al Saud. She traces her roots to the most influential clan of the Al Faisal branch of the Al Saud family as the Al Sudairi's, ever since Fahd's ascent to the throne in 1982.

Known by the patronymic of King Fahd's mother (later remembered as Umm Fahd), the sons of Ibn Saud are otherwise known as the Sudairi Seven named after matriarch Hissa's powerful Sudairi tribe. The Sudairi's are King Fahd's seven full brothers: namely the Minister of Defense Prince Sultan who is second in the line of succession, Prince AbdelRahman, Minister of Interior Prince Nayef, Prince Turki, the Governor of Riyadh Prince Sultan Salman and Prince Ahmed). Although holding positions of great significance, neither Prince Abdel-Rahman nor Prince Turki hold formal office. However, Princes Sultan and Salman were considered Fahd's closest political advisers. (In addition to his full brothers, seven of Fahd's half brothers were sons of other Al Sudairi women whom his father had married). Eventually Saudis began to refer to the clan as Al Fahd instead of Al Sudairi, as King Fahd's sons grew older, his brothers matured and assumed government res ponsibilities in the 1980s,

Diverting from her royal lineage, Christina was born half-American. Her mother Janet Taylor met her dad while attending school at Sta. Barbara. The marriage did not last long. Almost immediately after Chris was delivered, her parents divorced.

Being half-Saudi has been great for her career and day-to-day life, because she is half-American too. When it comes to the hijab or niqab, she admits wearing it inside the mosque or at any Muslim activity in the US. She added, "I always wanted to got to Saudi. I will definitely take my brother's offer on that given the right time and budget exp now that KSA is issuing tourist visas. I would really like to visit. I am not afraid, I feel the need to see that part of me which I never got to see all my life." On the issue of Arab women's rights, Sudairi admits she still may have to further get better in designing ways to defend her poor "sisters."

Sudairi said, "The issue on women's rights is so difficult to tackle. You see, while many think Saudi women are terribly oppressed, women over there do not think so. From a distance it is hard to deal with things like that. I will be happy to find any organisation fighting female gender mutilation. Frankly, the issue on human rights is so complex - indeed a grey area - that unless I am so close enough to really see it for myself, it could be challenging to execute assistance."

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