Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Freedom of the Press in Saudi Arabia?

Teachers on the Red Carpet

Editors of the Saudi Gazette
There are no laws that protect the freedom of the press in Saudi Arabia. So when newspapers try to publish stories about controversial issues, editors must walk a fine line. Today we met with editors of the Saudi Gazette, an English language publication that focuses on issues in the Arabian peninsula.

A Tour of Facilities/Printing Press

We discovered that this publication was the first to break the news about the woman who was raped and then punished with lashings and jail for being alone with a stranger in the first place. When the editor was asked if he was really free to report what he wanted, he emphatically said yes. "No one is standing over me telling me what to report," said Essam Al-Ghalib, Editor of the Gazette. He decried the Western media for giving that story massive amounts of attention and reinforcing the image of the human rights abusing, terrorist breeding ground portrayal that has become indelible in the minds of many. BTW, Essam was raised in the U.S. and went to college in California.

A Panel Discussion and Arabian Coffee

The issue of how Saudi Arabia is portrayed in the media hinges on the events of September 11th. Saudis feel they have had to pay the price as a nation for the actions of terrorists, who they condemn vehemently. They feel that the media has created a frenzy around their culture and customs and have tried to blame the entire culture and religion for the actions a few fanatics. Just as in America, the media pounces on negative stories and neglects to mention the numerous positive stories that occur each day. This is similar to what happens in the neighborhood where I teach: South Central Los Angeles. Every time there is a shooting, a high speed chase, or other such thing, the media is all over it. But those of us who work there see numerous stories of accomplishment and citizenship that never make the news.

Even Mission Statements Tied to Islam

As a history teacher, I urge my students not to stereotype and judge. Just as we cannot say all Americans are terrorists because of the actions of Eric Rudolph and Timothy McVeigh, neither can we say that Islam is a religion of war. At the same time, the teachers have stepped up their questioning of practices we feel contradict their repeated assertions that they are making progress. One teacher asked why in the Sharia court, the testimony of 4 women was equal to that of 1 man. The response from a female was that it was in the Ko'ran and that his teachings are "perfect. We do not question the teachings of our religion." It is explained that because women are more emotional and hassled due to their responsibilities raising children, they are not as reasoned as their male counterparts. Looking directly into the eyes of this woman, I asked if she really believed this, and she said yes!

Coffee and Dates Served At All Times

It has been hard for me to accept this way of thinking. All other aspects that we have encountered can be explained culturally, such as the wearing of abayas, the separation of the sexes, and even the multiple wives. But to say that men and women are equal in this society (because both men and women in government jobs get paid equal salaries) is in direct contradiction to the value of men vs. women in the Sharia court.

Yes, This Ice Structure Says Saudi Aramco

The day was redeemed, however, when we were hosted for dinner at a palatial building by Amr Kashoggi. This frank and plain-speaking gentleman was blunt in his assessment of Saudi culture: "There are some things that are wrong in this society and must be changed. Women should have the right to drive. We must prepare a future for our youth, or we will have a youth-quake", a term he used to describe the scenario of a nation where 60% of people are under the age of 20. In a rapidly changing world, the conservative, older society must adapt to changes and offer the youth a viable future, or society will fragment, he believes.

Women will definitely be a part of that equation.


  1. hey ms.infante,
    it's amazing!!!
    it's also amazing how many information you collect and share in one day!!!
    take care!!!


  2. hey ms.infante,

    By the way you look nice on the black dress!!!
    how much did it cost..?

  3. Hi Liz, Actually the black dress is the abaya! I just don't have the head covering one. Yes, its hard to share all the information because we don't have enough time.

  4. hi there sensei, very cool stuff. i teach middle eastern history at uc irvine and have been pretty much everywhere in the region besides saudi. great job getting an important perspective out to the public from your travels, especially to students! keep up the great work and come visit our world history program at uci when you're back.

    mark levine

  5. i think that this is all so interesting! Thanks for sharing us a little bit about Saudi Arabia. I needed a lot of his info. for my research in journalism. (:
    God bless and take care!

    --a student in the 10th grade