On February 16, 2014, Khaled Almaeena announced his resignation as head of the editorial team of the Saudi Gazette, and appointed Somayya Jabarti as the first woman editor-in-chief in the history of the Saudi press. In a tweet, Almaeena said: “For 25 years, I have been looking for the best journalistic skills and qualifications, and today, my dream comes true in appointing a qualified woman to head the editorial team of a Saudi newspaper.”For those who don’t know Jabarti, she started her career as a journalist in 2003 at Arab News, and in 2011, she became its deputy editor-in-chief, before she joined the Saudi Gazette a year later, according to an articlepublished by CNN last week.
The appointment has been hailed by many as a landmark development in Saudi women’s engagement with the media industry. In an interview with CNN, Journalist Essam Al Ghalib said: “This is a totally new step for Saudi Arabia. She is very qualified, and it’s about time. But how will people react, we’ll have to wait and see.”
In an article published in the Saudi Al Madina newspaper, Aisha Abbas Natto, a trade consultant in Jeddah, and a columnist for a number of Saudi newspapers, said:
“News about appointing Somayya Jabarti as the first Saudi editor-n-chief pleased me. I believe our country has started to witness success stories by Saudi women. There is always room for faith, which makes us believe more in our women, and proves to those who doubt women’s abilities that they are wrong.”
For other people, however, appointing women in such leading media positions may be no more than a symbolic attempt to show off Saudi determination to empower women in all walks of life, including media. In a tweet on February 16, 2014, Saudi journalist Kamal Abdul Qader wrote: “One year has passed since women were appointed in Al Shura Council, and what changed? It is either a symbolic step, or a proof that women failed to do anything.”
But I see this development from another perspective. In a country like Saudi Arabia, dramatic social change could not be expected to happen overnight. In a nation defined by what some perceive as a conservative religious brand of Islam and by official bans on women driving cars, there is much significance in the appointment of Jabarti in such a leading media position. Social transitions in Saudi Arabia have been taking place in the past two decades through state-sponsored education and other social initiatives. Those changes have always been explained as gradual and evolutionary to avoid any possible traumatic consequences in a society ruled by complex tribal and religious norms and traditions.
In this context, even symbolic change is good. It is important for the Saudi younger generations to grow up seeing women as politicians, journalists, film makers, pilots, and social workers. Growing up in such an atmosphere makes change more acceptable and tolerable. The appointment of women in this kind of leadership position is likely to put a brighter spotlight on women’s issues and pave the way for greater social accommodation of women as central players in national development. [Read more...]