The “Tyranny of Sex” in the Saudi Novel

This story was written by M. Lynx Qualey and originally appeared at Arabic Literature (in English).

"Naughty" novelist Samar al-Muqrin

Al Jazeera reports that the cultural pages of Gulf newspapers are brimming with talk about sex. Or, rather, they’re brimming with talk about talk about sex.

This is because sex has been a growing phenomenon in Saudi literature. Earlier this year, noted Kuwaiti novelist Laila al-Othman decried the increase in sexual content in Saudi women’s lit. Al-Othman, whose Wasmiya Comes Out of the Sea was one of the Arab Writers Union’s “top 105,”  is apparently not wrong to point to an increase. According to Al Jazeera, a Gulf organization’s study noted that in 2007 there were 55 Saudi novels dealing with sex, in 2008 64 novels, and last year about 70.

Not exactly an erotic book in every pot. But, sure, it’s something.

The writers being blamed for this phenomenon are mostly women. The Al Jazeera piece mentions Others, by Siba al-Harz (a pen name), Love in the Captial, by Wafaa’ Abdel Rahman, Zaynab Hanafi’s Features and Immoral Women, by Samar al-Muqrin.  Youssef al-Mohaimmeed, who sometimes writes from the point of view of a woman, also made the list of sexy writers with his Pigeons Don’t Fly in Buraydah.

Cultural critic Mohamed Al-Menkeri told Al Jazeera that it’s “regrettable that some people think sex is the most important component” of this conservative society, and don’t look to issues like the search for religious freedom, class divisions, educational failures, or gender.

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Friday Links — May 14, 2010

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Action Alert: Quebec’s Bill 94

The provincial legislature of Quebec, Canada, is currently considering a bill that would refuse key social services to anyone wearing a face covering if made into law.  Political discussions around this bill have made it clear that the law specifically targets women who wear niqab, a face veil worn by some Muslim women.

As Muslim women and feminists who come from a variety of countries, ethnic backgrounds, political views and religious understandings, we at Muslimah Media Watch are disturbed by any attempts to legislate what women can and cannot wear.  The proposed law denies these women the right of religious expression, and risks further marginalizing women who may already be marginalized by society by refusing to provide them with essential services.

As media activists, we are also deeply concerned about media portrayals that depict women in niqab as helpless, dangerous, and/or un-Canadian.  These images serve to increase racism and suspicion towards women who wear niqab; in this way, the negative impacts of the proposed ban are already extending far beyond the denial of basic services.

We endorse the Non/No Bill 94 Coalition Statement, and support the work being done by citizens across Canada in opposition to this bill.

May 18, 2010, the day that parliamentary hearings on the bill will begin in Quebec, has been designated as a day of action against Bill 94.  Leading up to that day, here are the actions recommended by the Coalition, taken from the Day of Action Facebook event:

Speak up! Write, email, phone, fax Quebec Premier Jean Charest, along with Minister of Immigration and Cultural Communities Yolande James, Minister of Justice Kathleen Weil, and Minister of Culture, Communications & the Status of Women Christine St-Pierre to voice your concern regarding the discriminatory Bill 94. CC us at along with your Member of Parliament, Member of the Legislative Assembly, and Member of Provincial Parliament. You can also send a message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff, M.P., Liberal Leader. Contact information for the above can be found here:

Organize! Endorse the No Bill 94 Coalition’s statement found here Circulate this call to action widely to your networks. Have conversations with them about your concerns about Bill 94 and refer them to articles on the proposed legislation. And sign the petition:

Get Creative! Host an action in your community, make a video, hold a press conference, run a workshop, throw call-in parties, letter-writing events & blogathons, to ensure that our voices are heard. Email us your creations and actions at

Use Media! Use social media outlets. Make your profile pic to one found here: Change your facebook status to or tweet – “Will you allow your government to deny services like emergency health care, education, legal assistance & day care to women based on what they wear? TAKE ACTION on May 18! Say No to Bill 94!.”Post and re-post interesting articles talking about Bill 94 anywhere you can – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, e-newsletters, etc.

See for more information

For those in the Toronto area, there is also a rally taking place on May 18 from 1-3pm outside the Bureau du Quebec a Toronto, 20 Queen St. West (Queen and Yonge.)  For readers who know of actions taking place in other locations, please leave that information in the comments!

A War of Women: Al Jazeera’s Lebanon’s Women Warriors

Al Jazeera recently aired a piece titled Lebanon’s Women Warriors, which features the testimonies and stories of eight women who fought against occupying forces from 1975-1990 in Lebanon.

The film offers a unique perspective: it shows the role women played in the war, the unconventional weapons they used, and ways they fought. Perhaps the most striking thing about the piece is that it shows the relationship between women and violence in a way that is not typically expressed.

Wafa'a Nasrallah and her daughters. Image from Al Jazeera.

This period was marked by civil war within Lebanon with the Southern region being polarized by the influx of Palestinian refugees and the presence of the PLO, followed by the presence of Israeli forces. In addition to the presence foreign forces, there was fighting among Christian, Shi’a Muslim, and Sunni Muslim militias, and even between these militias and social, nationalist and communist movements. Needless to say, alliances shifted erratically.

The women in the documentary were mobilized by various causes. They differed in their religious backgrounds: some are Christian, others are Muslim, and a few seem to be irreligious, choosing to align themselves with communist and nationalist socio-political movements instead. The one thing they had in common, however, was that they fought at the front lines alongside other women and men.

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Aquila: A New Kind of Muslim Woman?

For those familiar with women’s “lifestyle” magazines, the call to be “sexy” in some way or another is not new. We women need to have “sexy” everything: attitude, legs, skin, armpits, you name it. So pervasive is this message that I’m surprised that no one has spontaneously combusted from sexual arousal at the sight of a women’s magazine devotee.

And then we have the new Aquila magazine, whose key buzzwords are modesty and fabulousness.

The front cover of Aquila's latest edition. Image via the Aquila website.

As the “world’s first English fashion and lifestyle magazine for cosmopolitan Muslim women in Asia” that is based in Singapore, Aquila serves up the standard menu of any glossy: tips on make-up, shopping, book and film reviews, and some lightweight advice on career-building.

Aimed at readers from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, modesty and fabulousness are far from alien concepts: Muslim women of all ages, hijabis in particular, in Southeast Asia are intensely responsive to new faith-based sartorial trends, perhaps more so than women who do not cover their hair.

That said, Islamic consumerism, as cynical as it sounds, is a fairly new phenomenon in which women in the region form an active role. Aquila is an obvious byproduct of the purchasing power of Muslim women in Southeast Asia, but whether or not it aims to be representative of its target audience is quite another matter. So let us explore this issue by breaking it down to three parts, based on how well it’s doing for its intended readers thus far:

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Salwa Says, “Speak Up!”

When Doha had to jump out of her cab three times after being assaulted by the drivers in broad daylight, she knew she had to do something about it. So she has joined a growing number of women in Lebanon who speak out against sexual harassment.

A local non-government organization, IndyACT, supported a national campaign against sexual harassment called, “The adventures of Salwa.” Salwa is a fictional character in a series of television ads aimed at fighting sexual harassment:

A television ad features a young employee named Salwa who is summoned by her boss. When she enters his office, he is sprawled out in his chair, cigar in hand, and slyly holds out a promotion form to her. Salwa happily reaches out for the form when the boss tries to kiss her. Red with anger, she deals him a blow with her handbag before slamming the door as she leaves. The Salwa ad is one of a seven-episode campaign expected to show situations in university, taxis and public places.

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