Category Archives: CORRESPONDENCE

Unveilling the Voices of Saudi Women

Despite perceptible recent reforms, Saudi Arabia, will not soon become a tourist destination for Western party goers. The kingdom is infamous for triggering reactions of horror and frustration with regular reports of despicable news: an irritated Imam publicizing a new Sharia law, sadistic punishments inflicted to bloggers, women banned from driving, princesses sequestered, and little girls trapped in abusive marriages. Aspiring model of islamic virtue, the kingdom has no room for women’s rights and that tarnishes its global reputation. Even though, SA and the US have been allies since 1933—maintaining a “special relationship” made possible by a creative alchemy of oil and weapons trade. Although, this alliance can be disconcerting; partnering with a country where women don’t legally exist is a slap to the face  of the free world.

To most of the world, Saudi women appear as shapeless forms dressed in abayah, long black cloaks often worn over their western outfits; they stroll about, trailing a few feet behind their husbands, fathers, or brothers. Looking more ghostly than feminine, they spur mixed feelings in the Occident that range from compassion to anger from perpetuating an “unacceptable” model of womanhood.

The book “Revolution Under the Veil” by French foreign correspondent in SA, Clarence Rodriguez, turns this misconception around by letting eight Saudi women speak about their fights, dreams, and hopes. Suddenly the veil lifts, revealing an array of vibrant personalities—real trail blazers of their country’s future.

Madeva Al- Asjroush in Instagram
Madeha  al- Asjroush on Instagram

Madeha, with her irrepressible sense of purpose and resolve, is an inspiring force. In 1990, she led a group of 47 women drivers in Riyad—a milestone that shed light not only on the Saudi women’s condition but also on a burgeoning front for women’s lib. We are not afraid to “resist arbitrary actions from an ancient patriarchal tradition as long as it will persist,” she says. Yet this tradition is so rigid that it couldn’t accommodate any of Madeha’s dreams, such as becoming a photographer. By the quality and beauty of her work, she is, but she can’t make a living out of it so she shares it on Instagram.



Madeha’s paved the way for Manal al-Sharif’s 2011 driving stunt.  Spontaneously, Manal videotaped herself behind the wheel and posted it on YouTube.  She was instantly showered with worldwide attention and support along with humiliating backlash in her homeland.  Steadfast in her ideals, she now lives in Dubai, sporadically organizing media campaigns on the web with other women’s rights activists.



Eman al-Nafjan

In 2007, Eman al-Nafjan decided to publish her blog, SAUDI WOMAN, in English. Initially operating in anonymity, “I revealed my name a year later. Several Saudi blogs already existed on the web. But they were written by men or by expatriated women.  Oftentimes, I didn’t even like their content.  So I created a space where I could give my opinion on different topics affecting me and Saudi women in general.  A little buzz started growing around it and my husband was called to the minister. They asked him to sign a document ordering me to stop my blog otherwise he would get himself into trouble and lose his job.  Unimpressed by their blackmail, he didn’t sign,” she says. Eman’s blog became one of the most popular in Saudi Arabia and gave her opportunities to write pieces for newspapers and magazines abroad.  Yet, nothing from her upbringing in Quassim, a religiously radical region, could possibly encourage her to be a successful writer, save a supportive and openminded family.


princess adila
Princess Adila of Saudi Arabia

Princess Adila is the youngest daughter of late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Aida Fustuq, a Lebanese woman.  Far from being sequestered,  she was called the “Modern Face of the Conservative Saudi Royal Family.”  Highly respected and influential , she is credited for being instrumental behind new reforms, signed by her father, giving more opportunities to women in the kingdom. In addition to the king’s legacy of widening their job opportunities and raising the legal age of marriage to seventeen instead of twelve, this year—for the first time—Saudi women may exercise their right to vote in municipal elections. Since his employment reform, the SA Ministry of Labor published data showing that the number of Saudi women employed in the kingdom’s private sector grew from 55,000 in 2010 to 454,000 by the end of 2013.

Conservative and progressive alike are avid internet users—surfing  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  All are aware of the world beyond the Wahhabism Islamic wall, and are in closer contact with the Western world than ever before. How much of this external input empowers them to insist for change is hardly quantifiable.  According to  Eman, “blogs and social networks have contributed largely to the recent evolution of women within the Saudi society. Before we heard nothing but the voice of our government. Suddenly, thousands of voices reached us from all over the world; our ears are opened and voices freed.”

Today many observers are amazed by the changes they have noticed in the past three years. In reality, this evolution is long overdue and doesn’t significantly revolutionize women’s lives.  Hiring women in Saudi Arabia requires special accommodations:  a business needs to set up partitions to enforce gender separation, set up an appropriate transportation system, be ready to communicate through a mandatory male guardian. Against all these odds Saudi women of the twenty first century are rising.  Some of them are even enrolled in flight dispatcher training at the Aviation Academy in Jeddha.

Meanwhile, not even foreigners can avoid Charia, the law of the kingdom. So how can a female journalist do her job?

“I must admit, I have barriers that my male colleagues don’t have. Not being able to drive, I can’t cover a sudden crisis on the spot, I need a driver. The logistics are tedious. The last resort is to conduct interviews at my home; it’s not very safe.  As a correspondent, I got my accreditation in 2005, so I have official recognition, but, as a woman,  I don’t have legal existence—it’s a very dichotomic situation. I was never censored, but I have to watch myself to make sure I’m not going too far.

Recently, for the first time in ten years, I was lectured when they noticed a referene to Sunnism in one of my pieces. The topic of religion, the Sunni-Shia  relationship. is very sensitive. They read everything written about them; it’s remarkable how they can screen all these stories so meticulously,” shares Clarence.

Saudi Arabia is not only keeping its women under veils, it also draws a veil over information which ranked it number three on the infamous list of the 10 most censored countries in the world.

However Clarence wasn’t censored for her book, nor for her upcoming documentary, “Arabie Saoudite: Paroles de Femmes” (Saudi Arabia: Words of Women) for France5 : “I know I’m watched but that’s doesn’t stop me from doing my work as I see fit.  No one ever told me what to say or write,” she says.  “I made this documentary hoping to correct the biased thinking toward the life of women in Saudi Arabia, mine included.”  When traveling, her husband needs to give his authorization, and she wears an abayah in public places. She’s affected by the driving ban, relying on her spouse when available and drivers from a private company to move her around.

But then there’s the oddball moment.  Recently, the military organized a press trip at the Saudi-Yemeni border–On the field that day, Clarence was wearing three layers—her occidental clothing hidden under her abayah and on top a bullet proof vest way too large for her frame that a man was trying to adjust paternally on her.  So much for the strict gender separation.


Révolution sous le voile Couverture
Book in French.

by Carole  Illouz 


French React To Lack Of Media Coverage On Kenya

Uproar pervades the French cybersphere over the media’s indifference toward the Garissa University College massacre in Kenya. France learned the news from the English  online press, and hold their media accountable for underreporting the story.  Meanwhile, in the US, reports on Garissa came in the wake of  terrorist raids, developed with regular updates about personal stories and responses from Kenyan authorities; and then faded away when the verdict of the Boston marathon bomber–also related to  extremist Islam–broke.

In France, solidarity with Kenya stems from sharing the same intolerable violence and shock from terrorists jihadists.  Then it splits on the global mediatic scene.  In January,  after the Paris’ twin attacks,  France received an exceptional  demonstration of global support : the hashtag  #jesuischarlie, worldwide demonstrations, and the political leaders walking in the streets of Paris; none of this happened for Kenya.

Now France feels awkward, its heart swelling beyond borders.  Since the world has been Charlie, the French became Danish for the terrorist attack that killed one at a free speech Conference in Copenhagen, Tunisian after gunmen  killed 19 visitors in  the Bardo Museum, and now Kenyan.

The flame of a candle Kenya in large letter . Black background

It’s as if Charlie and the Kosher market terror generated a slow-to-heal fracture,  a before and after.  Before, on December 16th 2014,  seven Talibans clad in Pakistani army uniforms burst into a military-run Peshawar public school, killing 145 students. The scenario is almost identical to Garissa; it was reported as insurgents taking revenge against military action. The attack was so unpredictable that the military was caught off guard on its own territory, resulting in almost the same death toll.  Yet, no one in the Western world  changed their Facebook profile picture in solidarity for the young Pakistani martyrs.  Furthermore, rare are those who remember the slaughter and endless pain it brought to the many families who lost their children forever.

Anyway,  with Kenya the frustration is mounting.  Complaints about the lack of coverage grow bigger than the story itself. Some recommended using memes to show concern, and support by pushing the hashtag  #jesuiskenyan.  Very few have changed their profile pictures.  No heads of state are marching in the streets and Kenyans feel as though their lives are somehow worthless.


Sheltered In Caves In Western Ukraine

by Alvaro Canova
by Alvaro Canova


War is raging around Donetsk, the clash between the pro-Russians and the Kiev Army turns into a bloodbath. Paris and Berlin fear the worst. Paris-Match correspondents Emilie Blachere and Alvaro Canova, a photographer, reported from the frontlines.
Continue reading Sheltered In Caves In Western Ukraine