JEDDAH, 24 March 2006 — Syria named a veteran former culture minister, Najah Al-Attar, as its first woman vice president, the official SANA news agency reported yesterday.
“Mrs. Najah Al-Attar was sworn in as second vice-president in charge of cultural policy by President Bashar Assad,” SANA said.
In Saudi Arabia, women were keen to hail the move as another step in the right direction of empowering qualified women for high positions of power. Fatin Bundugji, director of Women Empowerment & Research at the Khadija bint Khuwailed Center of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry emphasized that “qualified” is the operative term.
“The fact that she’s a woman does not undermine the fact that she’s the most qualified one for the job,” Bundugji told Arab News. “The decision of her appointment as vice president was not gender-based, though the fact that she’s a woman is a plus for the women’s cause. Her appointment is based on qualification.”
Indeed, Attar, 68, has served as minister of culture from 1976 to 2000 and was most recently in charge of the ministry’s translation department. She holds a doctorate from Edinburgh University and has published a number of books.
Director General of the Khadija bint Khuwailed Center Nadiah Baashan said it was not only good news, but also righteous.
“Women are taking back their right that has been assigned by Islamic Law,” said Baashan. “The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) had assigned to Nusaiba, daughter of Kaab, a role identical to the head of a market-inspection team. What is happening to women in the world presently is aberration from the right.”
Muna Abu Sulayman, executive manager of strategy at Kingdom Holding Company, agreed that Islam is not what has created the glass ceiling for women in the region. “Having a woman in such a position is a great step forward for all in the Middle East,” said Sulayman, who is also anchor of MBC’s “Kalam Nouaem,” a weekly social entertainment and variety television program. “It’s a step further in breaking the glass ceiling... Islam doesn’t prevent women from achieving these kind of positions.”
A male political science professor at a prominent local Saudi university who did not want to be named said the political shift in Syria is a part of a greater move where women, who are underrepresented in politics in the region, have no choice but to keep their eyes on the prize and grab the fruits of power through hard work and diligence.
“There’s no doubt that women are being driven to join the Arab political arena because men’s representation on behalf of women’s voices is poor if not totally dumb,” he said. “There’s no doubt that the majority of Saudi men dread the involvement and competition of women; it’s called intimidation and control-loss.”
Bashar last month appointed former Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara as first vice president, replacing Abdel-Halim Khaddam, who resigned last year. “Attar will be responsible for following culture policy according to the directions of the president,” SANA said.
— Additional input from agencies