Saudi Arabia: Don’t Worry….We’ll Track Your Wife Down

There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia knows how to take advantage of new technologies.  However, is the Kingdom using such technology in an appropriate manner?

In the past when women traveled alone they had to present an official travel document signed by their mahrem (male guardian) which provided permission for the travel.  Now, towards eliminating paperwork and what authorities believe as making the system better, the mahrem receives an SMS text message that his wife is at the airport, leaving the terminal, or has gone through customs.

When I hear of the use of such technology I think how it could be used well to track suspicious individuals among authorities and officials.  For a woman to require permission to travel (whether within or outside of the country) is so archaic and sounds like a woman can’t be trusted.

I really wonder if there are Saudi women who have no objection that there movements are tracked similar to that of a common criminal?

The following articles below provide further information and analysis on the technology and impact using such a technology in the Kingdom has on Saudi society:

 

MEC Analytical Group

23 November 2012

Women in Saudi Arabia

 

The Sahih of al-Bukhari, the classic ninth century compilation of the sayings of Muhammad (hadith), contains an account of “The affair of the lie (Ifk)”. According to the summary on the Islamic Studies website “This relates to an incident, which occurred on the Prophet’s return from the campaign against the tribe of Mustaliq in the year 6 H. A’ishah accompanied the Prophet on this expedition. At the last halt, before they arrived back in Madinah, she moved away out of sight for a while to ease herself. A necklace dropped in the sand and it kept her longer than she had intended. By the time she was back, the caravan had left. After having spent several hours alone, she was found out by one of the Prophet’s companions. He then brought her back on his camel. The enemies of Islam raised a malicious scandal. The ringleader was Abdullah ibn Ubayy, a hypocrite.”

 

This well-known story and similar traditions lie behind Saudi practice on women, including the ban on driving and controls on travelling without a male companion. We circulate below two items. The first published in the Saudi Gazette describes a new technical development in control of women by the Passport Department, the second from the Beirut Daily Star covers the same development and gives a wider picture.

‘Relax! We’ll track your wife down!’

LOCAL VIEWPOINT

Friday, November 23, 2012

Badriya Al-Bishir, Al-Hayat newspaper

YOU will find at the end of this article a link [Note by MAG: we have not found this link] that will take you to the picture of a woman standing in the main entrance of Al-Hafayer police station in Khamis Mushayt.

The woman looks humiliated; she ran away from her husband who locked her in the bathroom for six days, whipped, tortured and made her drink his urine.

When he finally entered the bathroom to take a shower, the woman ran to the police but they refused to help her and left her stranded on the street.

Every time she runs away from her husband, her father makes her return.

This time, however, her father has refused to go to the police station and bring her home.

She is being treated as if she is a commodity that needs to be collected.

She sits and waits on the street until her owner claims her. And to make matters worse, despite her plight, the authorities have refused to intervene and help her.

The Passport Directorate has been recently working on a project called “Relax! We’ll track your wife down!”

I hope the authorities provide us with a total cost of this truly ground-shattering service, which is a sign of the backwardness that plagues Saudi society. Let me explain the reason behind this service.

Immigration officers at airports used to issue a yellow-colored document, called travel permit, which allowed a woman to travel abroad and does not require her to bring her guardian to the airport. But this document embarrassed us at Gulf, Arab and international airports. So the Passport Department decided to change it and use an online service instead, a service which only passport officials can see on the screen.

If a woman has permission, she will be allowed to travel. If she does not, she will have to ask her guardian to come to the airport. Are these procedures enough? Of course, not.

The Passport Directorate has come up with a new service that sends a woman’s guardian an SMS message when she leaves and enters the country.

Some husbands who were with their wives were surprised to receive a message telling them that their wives just entered or left the country.

My advice to the Passport Directorate is to patent this invention because I am sure some companies will steal it and develop it into a more sophisticated technology that allows a husband to know every step his wife takes outside the house!

Do these procedures not remind you of the ones used to track down criminals who are under probation?

To put an adult woman under the constant control of her husband is proof that the wife is a slave. If the husband is good, she will live in peace.

If he is bad, she will face the destiny of a slave – she might be freed from slavery or live in torture. This explains why the woman stood next to the station helpless while officers could not do anything for her.

In conclusion, I ask the Human Rights Commission and the National Society for Human Rights to say something, to make a statement at least.

Electronic tracking: new constraint for Saudi women

November 22, 2012 By Assad Abboud

RIYADH: Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.

Since last week, Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country, even if they are travelling together.

Manal al-Sherif, who became the symbol of a campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy a driving ban, began spreading the information on Twitter, after she was alerted by a couple.

The husband, who was travelling with his wife, received a text message from the immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

“The authorities are using technology to monitor women,” said columnist Badriya al-Bishr, who criticised the “state of slavery under which women are held” in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Women are not allowed to leave the kingdom without permission from their male guardian, who must give his consent by signing what is known as the “yellow sheet” at the airport or border.

The move by the Saudi authorities was swiftly condemned on social network Twitter — a rare bubble of freedom for millions in the kingdom — with critics mocking the decision.

“Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!” read one post.

“Why don’t you cuff your women with tracking ankle bracelets too?” wrote Israa.

“Why don’t we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?” joked another.

“If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I’m either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist,” tweeted Hisham.

— ‘Technology serving backwardness’ —

“This is technology used to serve backwardness in order to keep women imprisoned,” said Bishr, the columnist.

“It would have been better for the government to busy itself with finding a solution for women subjected to domestic violence” than track their movements into and out of the country.

Saudi Arabia applies a strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, and is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

In June 2011, female activists launched a campaign to defy the ban, with many arrested for doing so and forced to sign a pledge they will never drive again.

No law specifically forbids women in Saudi Arabia from driving, but the interior minister formally banned them after 47 women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars in November 1990.

Last year, King Abdullah — a cautious reformer — granted women the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections, a historic first for the country.

In January, the 89-year-old monarch appointed Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, a moderate, to head the notorious religious police commission, which enforces the kingdom’s severe version of sharia law.

Following his appointment, Sheikh banned members of the commission from harassing Saudi women over their behaviour and attire, raising hopes a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints in the country.

But the kingdom’s “religious establishment” is still to blame for the discrimination of women in Saudi Arabia, says liberal activist Suad Shemmari.

“Saudi women are treated as minors throughout their lives even if they hold high positions,” said Shemmari, who believes “there can never be reform in the kingdom without changing the status of women and treating them” as equals to men.

But that seems a very long way off.

The kingdom enforces strict rules governing mixing between the sexes, while women are forced to wear a veil and a black cloak, or abaya, that covers them from head to toe except for their hands and faces.

The many restrictions on women have led to high rates of female unemployment, officially estimated at around 30 percent.

In October, local media published a justice ministry directive allowing all women lawyers who have a law degree and who have spent at least three years working in a lawyer’s office to plead cases in court.

But the ruling, which was to take effect this month, has not been implemented.

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4 Responses

  1. whoaa.. this is crazy!

  2. This story was on the Fox News Channel this morning while I was reading this. I am all for embracing modern technologies for our own benefit but using it to maintain archacic rules is ludicrious!!

  3. Are saudi men really that Insecure???? i don’t buy that.
    This is another iditic idea thought out by the conservative religious shieks who lack education I’m sure and for some reason seem to hold power in KSA.. sad for the women and the men who want to live a normal life.

  4. radha, you are right!!! It one thing to use for helping track children or my husband and I to use for fun to see where the other is, but it is our choice to do that, not a requirement imposed by the religious police. I bet the women can’t track their husband’s movements with a cell phone!

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