Those Crazy Saudis

May 16, 2006

From CNN:

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, under pressure from Islamists to curb reforms, has warned local media against showing pictures of Saudi women, local newspapers reported on Tuesday.

Many Saudis have said they hope the king, who came to power last year, will loosen strict political and social mores in the ultra-conservative kingdom which imposes an austere version of Islam called Wahhabism.

Newspapers have broken with tradition and have more frequently begun printing photographs of Saudi women beside stories, usually with hair covered but faces showing, which many Wahhabi Islamists consider morally wrong.

They have also printed debate about other issues concerning women, such as whether bans on women driving and working in some retail stores could be reversed, issues which have raised the ire of many religious conservatives.

"There are photographs published in some newspapers … and one needs to think if he would want his daughter, sister or wife to appear like that. Of course, no one would," the king was quoted as saying at a meeting with newspaper editors late on Monday.

"Young people are driven by emotion and the spirit, but the spirit can go astray. So I ask you to go easy on these things."

In recent months, many figures in the powerful religious establishment have used mosque sermons, Internet forums and public debates to decry a wave of "liberalization" they fear will secularize the country along Western lines.

The king, whose media persona is of a modernizing father figure, also warned the media against "hurting the country" in comments that appeared to refer to a stock market crash that began earlier this year.

"I ask you to go easy on … unclear issues based on rumors and not to write things that hurt your country," he said.

"Some correspondents just want to stand out and they go too far. If he has something, he should go to the relevant minister to clear up the picture. Others just want to laugh at misfortune and that's not our way."

The octogenarian ruler last month reduced domestic fuel prices partly in an effort to soothe public anger over the crash, which affected hundreds of thousands of ordinary Saudis who had been encouraged into the market by the government.