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Saudization: Progress For Women In The Kingdom

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Saudi women are becoming a growing force in the workplace. The Saudi government has made a concerted effort towards “Saudization” – a nation-wide program to replace an overreliance on foreign national workers with Saudi citizen workers, both male and female. In order to achieve its goal, KSA has to allow women into the workforce. There just are not enough men to replace all the female foreign workers. Saudi men also are unwilling to perform the tasks that were performed by female foreign workers. Since the beginning of this program, the number of Saudi women working in the Saudi private sector has increased from 55,000 in 2010 to 454,000 by the end of 2015. That number has continued to grow. Saudi’s Vision 2030 for economic growth “stressed that Saudi women were a “great asset” and the Vision will strive to “develop their talents, invest in their productive capabilities and enable them to strengthen their future and contribute to the development of our society and economy.”(Varshney, 2019)

Saudi Arabian women have made great strides toward achieving true equality with their male counterparts. But there is a great deal of inequalities that still exist for them. There will need to be more legal and legislative reforms to protect them from potential backlash from the more traditional sectors of their society who will view the women’s rights movement as blasphemous to Islam and a challenge to their traditional patriarchal social structure.

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, commonly referred to as the Basic Law, was issued by royal decree and has only one line in it that addresses human rights. Article 26 [Human Rights] – The state protects human rights in accordance with the Islamic Shari’ah.(Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 1992)The only pronouns used in the document are masculine and the Basic Law continues a tradition of discrimination against Saudi women. It is also important to note that the Basic Law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against women. Since the adoption of this constitution, several royal decrees have been issued that have expanded upon it.

The Saudi government established the National Society for Human Rights in 2004. The Society’s mission is “the stated objectives of protecting and defending human rights, in accordance with Islamic law, the Basic Law, and international conventions and covenants “which do not contradict Islamic laws.” (Musawah, 2018)In 2005, this advancement was followed up by the establishment of the 26-member National Human Rights Commission whose mission is to “protect and enhance human rights according to international standards for human rights in all aspects, and to promote public awareness thereof and participate in ensuring implementation of the same in light of the provisions of Shari’ah.”(Musawah, 2018)Both of these organizations represent an important step forward, but they operate under the auspices of the Saudi Monarchy and operate in consultative capacities. They may make recommendations for legal or policy changes. But neither organization has to the power to establish policy directives.

Since the Basic Law and the two Saudi Human Rights organizations state they are based on Shari’ah law, what exactly does Islamic texts have to say about the question of equality or subjugation of women in Islamic society? The Qur’an and Islamic texts, similar to the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah, offer two contradictory views of women. Under the first pervading view, the Prophet Mohammud is identified as the “defender of women’s dignity and opened Mosques to women on an equal footing with men.” It is also critical to note “that the Qur’an itself does not assign women a subordinate position.”(Offenhauer, 2005)Shari’ah law is supposed to be based on the egalitarian concepts of equality, piety, and justice. Under the second – and more wide-spread view, Shari’ah law is used as the basis to subjugate women. This interpretation draws heavily on the prevailing pre-Islamic societies which adopted “Qur’anic interpretations and Islamic legal discourse mirror the world views and interests of specific groupings of socially powerful men” based on a long history of misogyny that “stresses the domination of interpretation by male elites.” (Offenhauer, 2005)The reality for Saudi women is the judicial system heavily favors men because of the dictates of Shari’ah law.

Traditional Saudi patriarchal society is slowly and steadily giving way to the dictates of modern society. Saudi women are demanding change and their equal place in politics, the workforce, and society in general. Saudi’s oil-based “rentier” economy, like much of the Arab Gulf States, is facing downward pressure from increased production in the US, and renewable energy policies which is lessening the demand for oil in the long-term.(Power, 2012) This grim economic reality has forced the Saudi government to introduce reforms to address the long-term viability of the Saudi economy. Since the discovery of oil, the Saudi government has implemented a series of five-year plans to capitalize on the extraction and refinement of this commodity. In the 2000-2005 five-year plan, the Saudis introduced Nitaqat or Saudization policy. Previous economic plans relied heavily on the use of foreign-born workers in all sectors: oil, medicine, education, retail, etc. Under Saudization, the work force will transition from mostly foreign-born to mostly native-born workers. The new Saudi work force demands skilled workers and following decades of education reform “more than half of all state school and university graduates are female.” (Al-Khuzaim, 2003)The only way to achieve the goals set out under Labor Law reforms as part of Saudization, Saudi women must be given the freedom to participate fully in the workforce as equals to their male counterparts.

According to Ms. Rajkhan, “the status of women in the Kingdom is going to change due to the frequent variations in demographic and economic necessities within the Kingdom.” (Rajkhan, 2014)These changes are already visible. Women have been on the Saudi Consultative council since 2013. By early 2014, they achieved three major reforms: Domestic abuse was criminalized – punishable by prison time and a 50,000 riyal fine; Granting law degrees to women – Bayan Alzahran is the country’s first female lawyer to be granted an official license from the Ministry of Justice. She also has opened her own law firm; Petitioned the government to end the driving ban – the driving was a major obstacle to women fully participating in society. (Rajkhan, 2014)The driving ban was ended in the fall of 2018. The current Saudi Labor law grants:

•Employers must provide female employees with their own space in the workplace that is segregated from men.

•Women are entitled to fully paid maternity leave for a period of 10 weeks.

•There are various maternity-related rights afforded to female employees on issues such as leave to attend to sick babies or babies with special needs; time off for nursing babies for a period of up to 24 months; and the right not to be dismissed while on maternity leave or as a result of sickness absence arising from childbirth.

•A Muslim female worker whose husband passes away will be entitled to fully paid leave for a minimum period of four months and 10 days (in accordance with Shari’ah law).

(Khan, 2018)

There is still a lot of room for improvement as the law does restrict women from certain work fields, but it includes some worker benefits that U.S. women are still fighting to attain. (Khan, 2018). Despite that, the only way for Saudi progress to continue is for the international community to recognize the achievements already made. Works like this a just a small beginning step.

Paula Mallott is nearly finished with her graduate degree in International Security and Intelligence Studies at Bellevue University and works as a Senior RC-135 Training Specialist with Leidos, Inc. She is a retired Air Force Linguist specializing in Russian and Arabic (Syrian, Iraqi, and Libyan dialects).

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Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.

The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.

Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.

In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr.  Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.

FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets,  and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.

Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.

In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.

A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”

Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.

In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.

One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.

With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”

He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

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Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

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In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.

In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.

Tensions for decades

Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.

With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.

Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.

But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.

What happened?

Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.

It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.

The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.

In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!

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