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Monday, November 01, 2010

Fair news/bad news/worse news from Saudi Arabia

The fair news, from September:
JEDDAH: The phenomenon of employing women cashiers in supermarkets is catching on with Centrepoint shopping store now joining the growing list of employers.

Panda and then Marhaba supermarkets were the first to employ women cashiers, but Centrepoint has gone one step ahead by placing women cashiers at check outs for T-shirts, pants and accessories for women.

The Centrepoint store on Prince Sultan Street, visited by Arab News, has women cashiers in a separate section. The women were busy checking out and packing the goods from the women customers.

The mahrams (male guardians) of women shoppers were seen standing outside area waiting for their spouses. A store official said that men who come with their families can come inside the area but the majority of the men preferred to wait outside.

Keeping a strict watch was a security personnel, whose task was to prevent men without families entering this area. It also fell on them to call out on the microphone the names of family members if the mahrams were not waiting outside the area.

A woman cashier, who revealed that some of the women working here are also studying and taking care of their families, lauded the stores for giving them this independence. “Women are now taking care of things. It is not like the old days when daddy would do everything,” she added.
Severe restrictions and rules, but at least a step in a positive direction for women in Saudi Arabia.

For a while.

The bad news:
Saudi Arabia's top clerics have challenged the government's policy to expand jobs for women with a fatwa ruling that they should not work as cashiers in supermarkets, a report said on Monday.

The official fatwa issuing body said that "it is not permissible for a woman to work in a place where they mix with men," the news website Sabq.org said.

"It is necessary to keep away from places where men congregate. Women should look for decent work that does not make it possible for them to attract men or be attracted by men," it said.
The ruling came from the Committee on Scholarly Work and Ifta, the official issuer of fatwas, or religious rulings, under the Council of Senior Scholars, the top authority for Islamic issues in the kingdom.

The fatwa was in response to a question -- published with the ruling -- asking specifically if women should work as cashiers in supermarkets, Sabq reported.

The ruling was unambiguous, and signed by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the head of the Senior Scholars Council, and six other members of the fatwa committee.

Again this is a government-sanctioned religious rulings board. It sounds like their problem goes beyond the existing restrictions on the women cashiers. (What I don't understand is why women - with their guardians, of course - are allowed to go to stores altogether, where they see male cashiers.) It is unclear whether this will make those cashiers illegal, or if the government can ignore this fatwa.

The worse news:

A Saudi journalist is to be lashed in public after he was convicted of instigating protests against a government electricity company because of continuous power cuts in a central town, Ajel online newspaper said on Monday.

The court in Qubba in the central province of Qaseem sentenced Fahd Al Jukhaidib, a journalist in the Saudi Arabic language daily Aljazierah, to two months in prison and 50 lashes with the whip, including 25 lashes in public in front of the electricity department, the paper said.

Al Jukaidib was accused of leading residents of Qubba to the department two years ago to demand action to resolve continuous power cuts in the town.

A few days later, the company yielded to their demands and sent seven additional power generators to the town.

“The problem was over but I was later summoned by police, who charged me of instigating protests. I was then referred to court, which has just sentenced me to two months in prison and 50 lashes, including 25 lashes in front of the electricity department,” the paper quoted Al Jukhaidib as saying.