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November 18 2012

Rooster’s Egg

The book Girls of Riyadh is one of the few true Saudi bestsellers. The controversial novel by Raja al-Sanea first came out in 2005 and became a sensation right away. The instant popularity and the controversy surrounding it prompted the Saudi government to ban the novel at first, but soon the ban was lifted and the book was available for purchase almost everywhere, including gas stations on the road between Riyadh and Dammam.

The novel was translated to English and published in the summer of 2007. I was not impressed by the book when I read it, but I thought that accompanying controversy was interesting nevertheless.

Considering that al-Sanea was trained as a dentist and this was her first book, some people raised questions over if she really wrote it. The fact that the well-known Saudi writer and minister Ghazi al-Gosaibi, a figure hated by religious conservatives, wrote a blurb for the book did not help. But I did not have a reason to doubt that al-Sanea had indeed written the novel. Al-Gosaibi, who passed away in 2010, would not have written something like that.

To avoid the controversy and her new fame, al-Sanea left the country and headed to Chicago to pursue higher education in dentistry. But before departing to the US, she told those who questioned her talent that Girls of Riyadh was not a “rooster’s egg,” which means that her novel was not a one-off, accidental success. She said she was going to write a novel as “powerful and influential” as her first one.

Seven years later, al-Sanea is yet to publish her second book. She told the Beirut-based al-Akhbar last year that she is working on a new novel to come out in 2012 “reflecting the changes surrounding her life.” The year is almost coming to an end and I have not heard or read anything about her upcoming novel.

However, the most interesting part in her interview with al-Akhbar for me was her take on the Arab Spring. I was surprised to read that she thinks that “We [in Saudi] have nothing to revolt against like neighboring countries.” Moreover, she believes that Saudi Arabia is “on the reform track.”

Obviously, Raja al-Sanea is not beyond her rooster’s egg yet.


September 27 2011

Saudi Women Granted Right to Vote

Yes, you read that headline right. Saudi women will be allowed to vote and run in the next municipal elections. They will also be appointed to the Shoura Council in its next term. As I said on Twitter yesterday, this is big news for women in Saudi Arabia any way you look at it. You can read more in this blogpost that I wrote on NPR’s The Two-way blog. I have also created a storify to collect the reactions from people that I follow on Twitter that you can read after jump.

[VIDEO] King Abdullah address in Shoura Council today, announcing new political roles for women http://youtu.be/DeKL9Ncgq78 #Saudi ahmed
September 25, 2011
Full text in English: King Abdullah address at the Shoura Council http://bit.ly/mVZHaB ahmed
September 26, 2011

An announcement about women driving was what many Saudi women were expecting, so the the news about allowing women to run and vote in municipal elections and serve on the Shoura Council took everyone by surprise. Saudi citizens on Twitter reacted with excitement.

Women have the right to to Elect , be a candidate and become a member in the Shoura council..#HappiestDayAlive Long live The King! #Saudi H_eba
September 25, 2011
:’D Crying!!! H_eba
September 25, 2011
Heart is so overwhelmed and full of joy after hearing about King Abdullah’s #Shura decisions. Congrats to all #Saudi women around the world! ErumH
September 25, 2011
A scratch in the surface and the best is yet to come! I AM OVERCOME WITH PRIDE! AAAAH! #KingShora rubz0
September 25, 2011
Hey, world! I’m a Saudi woman. I can vote! And very soon I’ll be able to drive, too! Wait for it. 1nc
September 25, 2011
OMG finally. girls, NOW, not only we can vote we can run in Municipal Elections. Love you so much King AbdulAllah. you truly empower us AmeerahAltaweel
September 25, 2011
My love for Abo Met3eb surpasses that of a teenage girl to Justin Bieber ! #FB Bassemkurdi
September 25, 2011
NSC spokesman: King Abdullah’s reforms recognize significant contributions #Saudi women make to their society. erin_pelton
September 25, 2011
NSC spokesman: we welcome Saudi King announcement that women will serve as full Shura members/participate in municipal elections. #Saudi erin_pelton
September 25, 2011
US National Security Council commenting on Saudi women’s rights- White House Statement on Saudi’s Reforms http://1.usa.gov/nm16ci RasheedsWorld
September 25, 2011

However, not everyone shared the excitement. They pointed out that women in Saudi Arabia still can’t drive, and they are still under male guardianship rules.

Dear King Abdullah,Thanks for allowing me to vote, I feel like im human now but.. what about driving?Sincerely,#Saudi #woman2drive #W2D Super_Eman
September 25, 2011
Politics in #Saudi is still an exclusive club.. Congratulations on adding female pawns to the list, though.. Really.. #KingShora lou_kay
September 25, 2011
Am I supposed to be thrilled that Saudi women will vote in two years but are still under male guardianship? #21stcentury weddady
September 25, 2011
Women’s right to vote and run in an election years away for councils with little or no power. Democratic reform #Saudi style? lauralynchworld
September 25, 2011
Saudi women will have to hire drivers to take them to the next meaningless municipal elections. blakehounshell
September 25, 2011
President & members of the #Saudi consultative council don’t represent people because they lack constituencies & mandates! #KingShora MFQahtani
September 25, 2011
Appointing #SaudiWomen to the #Saudi consultative & municipal councils is too little too late!#KingShora#kingspeech MFQahtani
September 25, 2011
We still need full representation in government and in court. Oh, and on the streets. #women2drive Swr87
September 25, 2011
This is nice, but don’t get too excited. I would not call this drastic change. We still don’t have a constitution. Or law. :) Swr87
September 25, 2011
What did they have to lose by allowing women to drive? Srsly?! No1 dared to do ANYthing to KAUST even tho all the crazies were against it. mouita
September 25, 2011
Will soon be selling t-shirts in #Saudi that read: Other countries went through the Arab Spring and all i got was this crummy voting right alfadlmiranda
September 25, 2011

#kingshora D.C Express news Today http://yfrog.com/ntdyiwuj
Photo by Saad_AL on twitter

But many hoped that this would be an important first step and that more steps will follow soon.
#KingShora #shoraking the burden of reform 4 women will be top-down rather than bottom-up rendering most of the public rhetoric irrelevant nawwarah82
September 25, 2011
Hopefully, following this decision, all discussions about gender interaction (workplace, cashiers, ..etc.) will become irrelevant #kingshora Jalsudairy
September 25, 2011
Today was a great day to be a #Saudi woman. The possibilities by #Kingshora’s speech are exciting. الحمد لله SBassam
September 25, 2011

SPA Photo: King Abdullah addressing the Shoura Council on Sunday. He announced women will gain voting rights http://yfrog.com/kj9rvdhj
Photo by ahmed on twitter


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