Saudi women’s voices in Shoura Council continue to be heard

Saudi women in the Shoura Council have come a long way. (SPA)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Saudi women’s voices in Shoura Council continue to be heard

JEDDAH: It was a year to remember for many Saudis. For the first time in history, 30 Saudi women took their seats as members of the Shoura Council in February 2013, and were sworn in before the presence of the late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.
Five years on, female Shoura Council members are still playing a major role in different issues concerning social development in the Kingdom.
Saudi women in the Shoura Council have come a long way. Their achievements have been recorded in history and their powerful voices continue to be heard.
None of the women needs introduction, with each having a long history of achievements even before their appointment.
Lina Al-Maeena spent more than 15 years leading a fight for women’s sports in Saudi Arabia. She founded Jeddah United in 2003, Saudi Arabia’s first private female basketball club.
Despite facing a backlash, she pushed for acceptance in the conservative community and has finally won recognition with the realization that it is important for women to participate in sports activities.
In compliance with Vision 2030 — which includes development programs preparing the Kingdom for a promising future — the Saudi government has committed to elevating the status of sports in the Kingdom, a boost to promoting physical fitness for both men and women alike.
But promoting sports activities for Saudi women is not Al-Maeena’s only goal.
“It’s not simply about the empowerment of women in sports from an athletic point of view, I’m also looking at it from an economic perspective,” she said.
“Sports as a business is in line with the goal of Vision 2030 — to increase the number of women in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent. It’s not just the health, social benefits and development aspects, I’m very big on economics too.”
“When it comes to women's empowerment, I like to look at a gender as a whole, not just women,” adds Al-Maeena. “I advocate under the Shoura Council dome, for many environmental issues. Saudi Arabia is a member of the G-20 and we have a global responsibility to become supporters of a green lifestyle to sustain effective development.”
“It’s a golden age for Saudis and as women, we’ve come a long way. Every other day you see things happening and it’s a great celebration of achievements. We’re living this era of historical change, both pre- and post-Vision 2030 and we’re making up for lost time,” said Al-Maeena.
Fawzia Abalkhail, a professor of Information Technology and Education at Princess Noura hUniversity (PNU) who has a doctorate in the philosophy of education, is one of 20 new female Shoura members appointed in 2016.
She believes that every member of the Shoura Council has a national responsibility entrusted to them by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques by virtue of his appointment.
“As a female Shoura Council member, I support development issues in the education sector, health sector, public services and social affairs … [and in doing so] to support many fellow members in women empowerment issues,” said Abalkhail, appointed in 2013-2014 as the undersecretary of PNU for Graduate Studies and Scientific Research and vice president of PNU for health affairs.
“We focus on finding means of support and setting the standards that will increase women’s contributions in matters of social development, provide greater chances for assuming higher governmental positions as well as managerial roles in the private sector,” she said.
Abalkhail is of the opinion that Saudi women must gain skills in various fields in order to contribute. She believes a woman plays a pivotal role in society to ensure its stability and structural health, a role that is no less than a man’s.
“I am keen on laying the foundations and the right means in which all women can acquire the knowledge they need to enrich their social contributions,” said Abalkhail, who is also a member of the Saudi Society for Education and Psychological Sciences.
“Women are required to be their own self-development researchers. I am very interested in making sure education is improved, facilitate it and widen the scope beyond academic constraints. In doing so, a wider range of knowledge exchange will be provided between all those who seek it to build healthier social practices.”
Education has played a major role in empowering women in Saudi Arabia for many years.
Dr. Alia Aldahlawi, an associate professor at the Department of Biology-Organisms in the Faculty of Sciences at King Abdul Aziz University, agreed that education was key to ensuring women qualified for senior positions.
“The Kingdom’s scholarship programs have sent countless of women and men alike to get an equally challenging education and thus return to hold positions they’re most qualified for. Society must place their trust, reverse their mindsets to empower our women,” she said. “It’s also important that women realize that it is essential they work harder and prove themselves to the naysayers.”
“To my knowledge, there are approximately 1,000 Saudi women professors with different scientific occupations in many universities of the Kingdom,” Aldahlawi said.
“They’ve held high administrative positions with years of experience. We see female diplomats employed in the Saudi Foreign Ministry, researchers and inventors in the health sector, economic and business experts and so much more.
“They are pioneers of their fields and their abilities are an asset to the Kingdom that must be utilized.”


90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

Updated 18 January 2019
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90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

  • Middle Eastern fans fondly look back at two comic icons who share a birthday this year, although they’re not without controversy
  • An Egyptian publisher printed Tintin in Arabic, while Popeye was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 and Spacetoon

Popeye, the scruffy sailor who remains one of the most loveable characters of all time, has been a popular fixture in Middle Eastern pop culture since the early 1980s. In addition to mountains of merchandise, particularly stuffed toys, being available in local shops, the cartoons were broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 (in their original English) and on Spacetoon (with Arabic dubbing). 
“I remember the first time I watched Popeye,” Zainab Basrawi, a 36-year-old insurance lawyer and self-professed Popeye enthusiast, told Arab News. “I learned to love spinach just from watching him save Olive every time. I believed him. I think he was a great influence on children to subtly ease them into eating their greens.”
Just one week after Tintin first appeared in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” Popeye made his debut on Jan. 17, 1929 as a side character in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.”
Created by the American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the one-eyed sailor with bulging forearms quickly grew in popularity, becoming the star of his own strip, an animated TV cartoon and a 1980 movie starring
Robin Williams. The theme song from the cartoon, “I’m Popeye the Sailorman,” is one of the most recognized pieces of music in pop culture history.
Compared to boyish, clean-cut, good- natured Tintin, Popeye is his polar opposite.
The sailor is rough, gruff and extremely tough, famous for the super-strength he gets from eating canned spinach, and his never-ending love triangle with his girlfriend Olive Oyl and rival Bluto.
Like Tintin, as a relic from another era, Popeye has also been criticized for racial stereotypes. In “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves,” he is shown beating up poorly made caricatures of Arab men. In “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” the Japanese characters in the cartoon get the same treatment.
However, literary critic Sophie Cline said the comic strip is reflective of the time it was created in, almost a century ago. “I think it’s important not to ignore these pieces of our history, or hide them away, but rather to own up to our mistakes and learn from them,” she told Arab News.
She alluded to the new disclaimer that now precedes old Looney Tunes cartoons, informing viewers that their outdated “racial prejudices” no longer reflect Warner Bros. values but are “products of their time.”
“Popeye cartoons reflect the common view of the era,” she said. “A disclaimer should be enough.”

Tintin, one of the world’s most famous fictional journalists, traveled the world seeking stories and adventure, so he naturally spent a good amount of time in the Middle East.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by his pseudonym Herge (say his initials in reverse out loud in a French accent), Tintin travels the region in four of his books: “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “Land of Black Gold” and “The Red Sea Sharks.”
Tintin gained more of a foothold in the region when Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Maarif began printing the comics in Arabic in 1971. Renaming him “Tantan,” Dar Al-Maarif continued to publish the comics weekly
until 1980.
“Tintin has been one of my idols for as long as I can remember,” said Haytham Faisal, a journalist from Cairo. “I literally became a journalist because I wanted to be him. My dad used to take me to buy the comics from the local bookstore. I remember them being so expensive, so they were a rare treat. I’d always think twice before buying them, but I couldn’t always wait for the next comic to see what new story they have next. I still have some of them, they were that precious to me.”
Before appearing in book format, Tintin and his constant companion, the dog Snowy, were first introduced to audiences in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” or “The Little Twentieth,” a supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” (The Twentieth Century) on Jan. 4, 1929. Herge, however, maintained that Tintin was actually “born” on Jan. 10, when “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” began its serialization in the paper.
Despite the fact that he never seems to hand in any stories, the loveable and quirky Tintin is portrayed as talented at his profession, so much so that he is shown to be in high demand, with many press agencies offering him bribes for his dispatches.
Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise quintessentially French items such as Citroen cars and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. Enthusiasts of Tintin lore, known as Tintinolo- gists, have written entire books devoted to him.
Since 1929, more than 250 million copies of the Tintin comic books have been sold. His adventures have been translated in more than 110 languages, and the books are sold in almost every country in the world.
Tintin continues to grow in popularity, even 90 years on. He was the star of a full-length feature film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in 2011 and of an animated television series. The latter was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 between 1991 and 1992 and a dubbed version has been on MBC 3 since 2003.
However, the history of Tintin has not been without its hiccups. Over the years, critics have argued that, like many of the comics of the era, it should undergo censorship or even outright banning from bookstores and libraries. One of the more troublesome ones is his second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo.”
The natives Tintin visits are crude stereo- types of African people, who are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated, and the references to slavery, such as when the natives refer to Tintin as “master,” make the comics hard to stomach.
Similarly, “Land of Black Gold,” which takes place in a fictional Red Sea state named Khemed, is also banned in several Middle Eastern countries today for its stereotypical portrayal of Arabs.
While some argue the comics are simply byproducts of their era, they are nonetheless somewhat difficult to revisit in the modern era. Attempts have been made to soften some of the references, with edits being made to “Tintin in the Congo” in 1975, but is that enough?
Not according to the London-based human rights lawyer David Enright, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Tintin in the Congo” shouldn’t be sold to children. “Books are precious, but so are the minds of young children. It is vital that our children learn and explore the grotesque history of slavery, racism and anti-Semitism, but in the proper context of the school curriculum.”