Saudi Hunger Strike – Your Thoughts

–By CNN’s Octavia Nasr

Some brave Saudis are going on a hunger strike and they want you to join them.

These are no ordinary Saudis; they’re the intellectuals of the ultraconservative kingdom. The human rights activists, the bloggers, and professional journalists and lawyers.

They have established a group on the social networking site FaceBook to raise awareness and recruit supporters. Their call is adding new members by the day and there is no telling yet how the Saudi government will respond.

The “movement” is lead by Saudis themselves after lawyers for 11 men detained by the government called for a 48-hour hunger strike in support of their clients. They attorneys claim that their clients have been detained with no clear charges and without the possibility of a trial anytime soon. .

What does the Saudi government say about all this? Nothing. We have been reporting this story for five months, and all attempts to confirm the detention of some of these men, the charges they face and an update on their status were met with silence.

So, in light of this latest development — the call for a hunger strike — we made another call to the Saudi Interior Ministry. They said what they’ve said before. “Call back in 30 minutes.” When we called back at the agreed time, the answer was a resounding “No Comment.”

Who are these eleven men? The list includes a former Judge and four former university professors.. All eleven are described as “human rights activists.” The earliest detentions date back to February 2007.

The most recent person taken into custody is Professor Matrook H. Al-Faleh, political science professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, detained by security forces in May 19, 2008. His wife told CNN that she saw him last Saturday and that he “currently” is not on a hunger strike. She refused to comment further and asked us to speak to the lawyers instead.

In the FaceBook posting, the announcement of the hunger strike is coupled with a plea for “all activists and citizens who have conscious” to show “sympathy and solidarity” by joining in.

The FaceBook page indicates the group believes that their move is “daring” and “bold” in the defense of human rights.

Do you think this hunger strike will make a difference?

Defense Team Of Jailed Saudi Activist Plans Hunger Strike

The wife of jailed Saudi Arabian activist Matrook Al-Faleh sent CNN producer Mohammed Jamjoom this note from her husband’s defense team.

Jamila Al-Faleh says the lawyers for Al-Faleh, whom human rights organizations say was jailed for criticizing prison conditions in his country, will go on a hunger strike to protest their client’s detention conditions.

The Saudi Interior Ministry has not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment. Below is a note from Al-Faleh’s defense team:

“The Saudi Justice system and legal procedures (e.g., Criminal Procedure and Arrest and Detention Laws) have failed to render just judgments to jailed Saudi human-right activists who have been arrested with no official indictments, and incarcerated indefinitely in solitary confinement with no right to an attorney or access to habeas corpus.

After exerting all means to get fair treatments to the constitutional movement’s detainees, the defense teams decided to observe a 48-hour hunger strike. The proposed strike will take place on Thursday and Friday, 6-7 November 2008, in protest against flagrant human rights violations for all detainees in Saudi prisons who have been deprived of their basic rights as guaranteed by [the Saudi] Criminal Procedure Law and Arrest and Detention Law.”

Arab Women: A Tale Of Two Destinies

— By CNN’s Octavia Nasr

I grew up in the tiny country of Lebanon, the daughter, grand-daughter and niece of larger-than-life female figures who fought very hard for Arab women’s rights.

My mom never missed a parliamentary election because “the right to vote is the only right we have” she used to say. She was convinced that it’ll all change “soon.” Women in Lebanon could vote as early as the 50’s but they can’t, to this day, give their children the Lebanese nationality.

A rule that exists in most of the Arab world, changed only recently in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. In Saudi Arabia, women can’t even drive a car and they face tremendous pressure if they appear on TV.

In many parts of the Arab world, a woman’s testimony is not accepted in court and a woman can’t travel abroad without the permission of her father, her brother or her husband. So, you might think that things didn’t change much in the last few decades; I don’t blame you if you do.

The fact is that Arab women have made great strides in education, societal involvement and civic duty; but there are many things still restricting them, even pulling them back.

On one popular Arabic soap opera, two wives compete for the approval of their husband. On other channels, other dramas: women being beaten by a husband, a father or a brother to save the family’s honor. From a slap on the face in a historic series.. to a woman being burned alive in a Gulf-made soap opera.. Arab channels are often filled with images of violence directed at women.

Buthaina Nasser is a Saudi women’s rights advocate.. She hosts a show dedicated to women’s issues in the Arab Middle East.. She says, “women are always seen as victims.. Although there are professional females and legislators in the Arab world.. There is still a glass ceiling for women on Arab media.”

Jordan’s Queen Rania has produced a video for a You Tube initiative she launched to shatter stereotypes about the Arab world. Her video shows real-life Arab women in a variety of professions.. Judge.. parliamentarian.. bank CEO.. pilot.. dentist.. plumber.. police officer.. None of these professions figure on Arab soap operas or drama series.. Instead, you’d find, the traditional role of the submissive wife, the weeping mother, the dependent sister..

Buthaina Nassr thinks women should become media producers, not just media subjects and consumers, to affect change.. She says, “Women need to be involved more.. They need to produce these shows themselves.”

As a kid I was fond of a video clip produced by then Egyptian leading pop star Souad Husni. It was a clip of a children’s song called “El Banat.. El Banat..” (The Girls, The Girls). “Girls are equal to boys”… the song went… “They are as capable and as patriotic with the same potential for greatness..”

Fast forward to today… and many of those ideals are now reality. Modern Arab women have moved on, but their governments and media insist on stalling them, even, in some cases, moving them back.

Floods In Beirut

Beirut residents try to salvage what belongings they can after heavy rains flooded streets and the inside of homes in parts of the Lebanese capital.

(Photo AP)

Holy Cow!

Today’s picture courtesy of Gaza tunnel smugglers, seen in this photo pushing a calf through one of the tunnels linking the Gaza Strip to Egypt.

Israeli authorities say they are used to transport weapons, but as the strip of land is increasingly low on basic necessities, live animals are more and more often smuggled through the narrow tunnels.

(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Jordan: When Poetry Is "Illegal"

Jordan’s image in the Western world is one of moderation and modernism, especially compared to other Middle Eastern nations like Saudi Arabia. It is, after all, a country with a King who is a friend to America and Europe and a glamorous wife who champions charitable causes around the world.

So it is difficult to reconcile that image with the news that Jordanian police today arrested a poet. His crime? Incorporating verses of the Koran into his love poetry.

Officials reportedly said Islam Samhan’s work insults Islam’s holy book and that he published his collection of poems, “Grace like a Shadow,” without the approval of the Jordanian government.

According to the Associated Press, Samhan was “charged with harming the Islamic faith and violating the press and publication law for combining the sacred words of the Quran with sexual themes.”

The 27-year old poet could face up to three years in jail.

But this is not the first time Jordanian authorities have interpreted the country’s publication laws to imprison authors.

More from AP:

“More than two years ago, the court convicted the editors of two weekly newspapers of insulting Islam and sentenced them to two months in prison after they reprinted Danish newspaper caricatures of Muhammad.

Jordanian writers and artists urged the government in a collective petition to immediately release the poet, saying the arrest is a “retreat in the freedom of expression,” and called for an end to the “oppression of freedom and intimidation practiced against intellectuals.”

Tense Relations Between Israel And The Vatican

Pope John Paul II visited Israel, but so far Pope Benedict XVI has not, even though the pontiff is said to have an open invitation.

Catholic officials say the reason is that Pope Pius XII, who was head of the Catholic church during World War II, is pictured at the Yad Vashem holocaust museum in Jerusalem by a plaque accusing him of having ignored the wartime deportation of Jews.

Meantime, Benedict has halted the process that would make Pius a Saint, according to reports “for fear of repercussions from Jewish groups.”
Benedict continues to insist that Pius XII, far from failing to act, quietly worked behind the scenes to save Jewish lives.
(Above photo AP – The caption reads : “While the (gas) ovens were fed by day and by night, the most Holy Father who dwells in Rome did not leave his palace.”)

Photo Of The Day

An Israeli protester sits in a cage during a demonstration calling for the release of Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit who is being held captive in Gaza, in front of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s house in Tel-Aviv, Monday Oct. 20, 2008.

Schalit was captured in a June 25, 2006 raid by militants who tunneled under the Gaza-Israel border and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two soldiers and taking Schalit with them. (AP Photo/Moti Milrod)

Supporting The Barrier

Whether you call it a “fence” or a “wall” indicates whether or not you support separating Israelis from Palestinians with a physical, man-made structure. So CNN decided from the start to call it a “barrier.”

But on the ground, terminology matters little. Passions continue to run high on either side of the issue.
In this picture taken today between the West Bank village of Nilin and the Jewish settlement of Modin Illit, right-wing Israelis show their support for the fence.

Palestinians they say it’s a wall and it encroches on a portion of West Bank territory, creating a de facto border that was neither negotiated nor legal.

(Photo AP)