Incident follows a wave of challenges to religious authorities.
It was a scene Saudi women’s rights activists have dreamt of for years.
When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition.
But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping.
A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix.
For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop.
According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.
“To see resistance from a woman means a lot,” Wajiha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist, told The Media Line news agency. “People are fed up with these religious police, and now they have to pay the price for the humiliation they put people through for years and years. This is just the beginning and there will be more resistance.”
“The media and the Internet have given people a lot of power and the freedom to express their anger,” she said. “The Hai’a are like a militia, but now whenever they do something it’s all over the Internet. This gives them a horrible reputation and gives people power to react.”
Neither the religious police nor the Eastern Province police has made a statement on the incident, and both the names of the couple and the date of the incident have not been made public, but on Monday the incident was all over the Saudi media.
Should the woman be charged, she could face a lengthy prison term and lashings for assaulting a representative of a government institution.
Saudi law does not permit women to be in public spaces without a male guardian. Women are not allowed to drive, inherit, divorce or gain custody of children, and cannot socialize with unrelated men.
Officers of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice are tasked with enforcing such laws, but it hasn’t been an easy year for Saudi Arabia’s religious police.
The decision last year by Saudi King Abdullah to open the kingdom’s first co-educational institution, with no religious police on campus, led to a national crises for Saudi Arabia’s conservative religious authorities, with the new university becoming a cultural proxy war for whether or not women and men should be allowed to mix publicly.
A senior Saudi cleric publicly criticized the gender mixing at the university and was summarily fired by the king.
That was followed in December by a surprise announcement from Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, head of the Saudi religious police commission in Mecca, who published an article against gender segregation, leading to threats on his life and rumors that he had been or would be fired.
Meanwhile, the Saudi government has gone to great efforts recently to improve the image of the religious police, most notably by firing the national director of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice earlier this year. The new director Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Humain then announced a series of training programs and a special unit to handle complaints against the religious police.
Last month, however, members of the religious police in the northern province of Tabuk were charged with assaulting a young woman as she attempted to visit her son, in a move that marked an unprecedented challenge to the religious police’s authority.
“There is some sort of change taking place,” Nadya Khalife, the Middle East women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Media Line. “There is clearly a shifting mentality regarding to the male guardianship law and similar issues. More women are speaking out, there are changes within the government, there is a mixed university, the king was photographed with women, they want to allow women to work in the courts and there are changes within the justice ministry. So you can witness some kind of change unfolding but it’s not quite clear what’s happening and it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”
May 20, 110 Thursday 15 Sivan 3870 23:48 IST
Photo by: AP
Cases of sexual assault by relatives surfacing in Gaza
By OMER GHRAIEB / THE MEDIA LINE
Psychologist suggests unemployment, boredom, oppression and life under siege contribute to drug use and depravity in Strip.
Eighteen-year-old E.S. hides in the corner of her dark room, fearing the approach of a family member coming to prey on her flesh again. The nervous girl with deep green eyes and golden locks makes several grueling attempts at speech, eventually letting out in screams that she was being raped by her relatives, finally leading her to isolation.
S.G. is another such case. She is 25 years old, with blue eyes and short black hair. Even the manner in which she sits reflects her suffering. She, too, fell prey to her father when he attacked her, trying to steal her virginity.
The stories of E.S. and S.G. indicate a growing phenomenon in the Gaza Strip, in which many girls find themselves trapped by their parents, brothers and relatives.
Staring around her in a state of panic, E.S. whispers that she has been sexually assaulted by her father since age four, right in front of her mother.
“I was not aware of what he was doing,” she told The Media Line. “When I reached to the stage of perception, only then I realized that what he is doing is totally forbidden,” she continued.
Her voice then drifted and tears started flowing down her cheeks.
“I went to my mother to complain about it, but she did nothing,” E.S. continued. “She was afraid of being fired by my father or divorced, so she threatened me not to say a word to anyone.”
E.S. then turned to her only uncle, hoping that perhaps he would be able to help.
“When I recounted [to] my uncle what happened to me his eyes shone, and I was hit by a state of shock when I was asked to commit outrageous sexual acts with him,” E.S. explained after insisting that she be allowed to finish telling her story.
Her uncle said he would prevent her from leaving the house until she complied, E.S. said.
She has attempted to commit suicide several times throughout her young life, but found herself unable to go through with it at the last moment.
“I was aware of the punishment that awaits me in the hereafter, so I was reluctant, and wished for ‘Prince Charming’ to come on his white horse and save me from this mire of wolves [and enable me] to live my life somewhat in a normal way,” she explained.
One of the most horrific cases of family rape is that of S.G., who strongly objected to speaking at first, but later agreed on condition of anonymity.
“In the beginning, my father was stalking me and watching my movements, taking advantage of the absence of all my family members from the house,” she explained.
During her father’s first attempt, only foreplay was involved, making S.G. think that it was a show of love and tenderness, just like any other parents would do with their daughters.
“When he went too far, crossing every red line, I tried to stop him, but he refused. I started screaming, [thinking] perhaps someone will hear my voice and answer me, but he quickly put his hand on my mouth and said: ‘I have the right to use you more than any stranger,'” S.G. continued, disgust taking over her face.
“After finishing his unforgivable crime, he threatened to kill me if I disclosed the secret. I had to agree, believing that he would not repeat it again,” she continued.
But some days later he tried again to assault her, so she told her mother and brother. Her mother was shocked and lost consciousness, while her brother confronted his father. The father justified his crime by saying it was his right to use his own daughter. So the young son told the police, leading to his father’s imprisonment.
One of the S.G.’s relatives heard her story by accident, and decided to marry S.G. to preserve her dignity. When her father came out of prison, the husband wanted to open a new page by asking his wife to go visit her father because after all, he would always be her father. According to S.G., at the end of the visit her father prevented her from leaving and threw her husband out of the house.
“She is my daughter and I deserve to use her more than you, so I will rape her!” the father screamed.
This made her husband go mad, but in the end he managed to save her from her father’s brutality and bring her home safe – albeit traumatized.
The sad story continued with S.G.’s younger sister, who was also tormented by their father. In a particularly harsh move, the girls’ brother finally murdered their father to save his younger sisters from the teeth of this beast, causing a crisis in the family.
Meeting with psychologist Zahia Qara at Gaza’s mental health center, S.G. confirmed that although it may shift sands to talk about them, cases of incest, adultery and rape do occur in the Gazan community. She added that the number of victims coming to the center for this reason was, in fact, increasing.
“In order to help him or her feel strong and be able to overcome the problem,” said Qara, the center provides psychological treatment through allowing the victim to talk about the tragedy.
The center also teaches victims how to defend themselves by confronting and threatening the aggressor and utilizing the sources of power available to them.
“Psychotherapy reduces the psychosocial risks of the situation, but it does not eliminate it or get rid of it 100 percent, because the aggressor does not stop after one time, but repeats his repulsive actions several times, leaving a bad effect on the psychological status of the victim,” explained Qara.
Qara indicated that victims who fall prey to their family usually have vulnerable and immature personalities; they are fearful, shy and introverted; and they are unable to confront the situation and set borders between themselves and others.
She added that most victims who have turned to the center have complained to their mothers but nevertheless they were left defenseless.
Qara pointed out that many reports are showing that drug consumption has increased drastically among Gazans, and that drugs like “tramal” (medically known as tramadol) have become very accessible and cheap. Not all pharmacies ask for a prescription before handing over such drugs, some of which are known to be sexual stimulants.
Qara believes that the siege, bad living conditions in Gaza, unemployment, oppression and lack of activities to fill youths’ free time are all motivations behind Gazans’ reckless recourse to drugs and sex.
To fight this, said Qara, people must spread awareness, give youth activities to keep them busy, decrease unemployment rates, put pharmacies and drug use under surveillance and lift the siege on Gaza for a better life.