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March 03, 2010

NYT's Dowd Dazzled by Saudis

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Not that anyone expects deep thoughts from Maureen Dowd on the Middle East, but her March 3 column ("Loosey, Goosey Saudi") was a notable collection of inanities about social reform in Saudi Arabia.

True, she says, King Abdullah may be "premodern" as indicated by his maintaining a harem; at the same time, he's nothing short of a "social revolutionary." What are the dazzling innovations that prompt such enthusiasm?

Well, she'll get to that, but first a detour into a few paragraphs of Israel-bashing. Yes, in a column about Saudi Arabia, why wouldn't a columnist include Prince Saud al-Faisal denigrating religious practice in Israel. He tells readers that: "The religious institutions in Israel are stymieing every effort at peace." Dowd embellishes this with her own insights about alleged flaws in the Israeli rabbinate and Jewish prayer, areas she finds wanting.

As far as the exciting social reforms underway:

The kingdom just announced a new law that will allow female lawyers to appear in court for the first time, if only for female clients on family cases. Last month, the king appointed the first woman to the council of ministers. Last year, he opened the first co-ed university. He has encouraged housing developments with architecture that allows families, and boys and girls within families, to communicate more freely.

As many of the comments posted under Dowd's column aptly observe, her enthusiasm for such meager progress is ironic, to put it politely, given the rights and social standing of women in nations throughout the world (and in Israel, of course). Saudi women remain the property of men, sequestered, covered and subject to the authority of males in much of the activity of ordinary life.

Underscoring the tragedy such oppression brings to some women a Saudi Gazette story by Adnan Shabrawi the same day Dowd's column appeared reported the prison term handed down to a Saudi woman who, having accepted a ride in a car, was taken to a house near Jeddah and gang-raped all night by five men. In addition to jail, she is also to be lashed 100 times. The charge against her is "adultery."

Posted by AL at March 3, 2010 05:09 PM

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