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      12-12-2006, 10:56 PM   #1
Brookside
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Saudi Women Can Sell - Not Drive - Cars

Saudi Women Can Sell - Not Drive - Cars
Yet they own 1/2 the cars in the country. Huh?


A Women Only Car Dealership in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi women still can't drive cars, but they can sell them. Potential buyers can go to an all-women showroom where, for the first time, other women will help them choose a car and answer questions about horsepower, carburetors and other automotive features.

Neither the saleswomen nor the female buyers can take the car out for a test drive because women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia -- even though they have been allowed to own cars for decades and hire male drivers. Almost half the autos belong to women.

The kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam has long limited what women can do outside the home, seeking to keep them from coming into contact with men who aren't relatives.

So touchy is the issue of women driving that people who previously called for dialogue about whether Saudi Arabia should remain the only Arab nation that bans female drivers have been largely silenced by a wave of condemnation from conservatives. Mindful of those sensitivities, the Riyadh car dealership that opened the all-women showroom asked that its name not be used.

The seven female saleswomen at the spacious showroom insist they aren't pushing for female driving but only providing comfort for women who want to buy cars and don't like to go to dealerships run by men. With the sexes segregated in schools, restaurants and banks, interaction between salesmen and women customers is awkward for many Saudis.

''I don't support women driving even if a permission is given for them to do so, because the society is not prepared for such a step,'' said Widad Merdad, one of the saleswomen, which is privately owned and -- like many in Saudi Arabia -- offers a range of cars.

While the introduction of car saleswomen into the work force may seem a gain for Saudi women, some say that for every step forward, women suffer other setbacks.

Saudi writer Maram Mekkawi cited a recent incident in which female doctors attending a conference in the same room as men -- a rare event in the kingdom -- were asked to leave because one speaker refused to address a mixed group. The women left, sparking outrage among other women.

In a column in Al-Watan newspaper, Mekkawi said the women doctors wouldn't have been kicked out had Saudi society not programmed them to accept such humiliation.

''I'm sorry to say that I have found in the Western world men and women with much more manly stands than ours here, where we claim a monopoly on values and principles,'' Mekkawi wrote.

''Would I be blamed if I felt like a third-class or even 10th-class citizen?'' she added.

Some people wonder if the new all-women showroom will meet the fate of a similar business forced to close shortly after it opened in Jiddah a few years ago.

A Saudi woman in public relations said anything that brings women closer to cars is seen as a threat by conservatives, who think female driving will open the way for women's emancipation.

The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being harassed, said she was forced to cancel a women-only private viewing of new models of a popular car a year ago when religious police agents stormed into the dealership hours before the reception.

When told the reception was intended only to show cars to women, the police retorted that the vehicles could be taken to the women's homes for private viewings, she said.

It's not only men who oppose women driving, however.

Ruqiya al-Duwaighry, in a letter to the opinion page of Al-Watan, wrote that driving ''strips women of their femininity'' and puts them in situations that might violate the ban on the sexes mixing.

Driving ''may subject her to give up the veil or mix with strange men, such as workers at gas stations or security men at checkpoints,'' she wrote. ''Women, by nature, cannot cope with such hard work.''

Others say women should at least learn how to drive so they can cope in emergencies, especially in households that cannot afford drivers. The Saudi Gazette recently told the story of a woman who disguised herself as a man to drive her elderly father to an emergency room as he was having a heart attack.

At the showroom, where a half-dozen cars sit on gleaming marble floors shielded from the view of people outside by blackened windows, Merdad said the employees get several weeks of training -- but not how to drive.

The showroom is attached to a dealership run by men with more than 100 cars on display. Female shoppers can watch a live feed of that showroom on a flat-screen TV in a comfortable seating area. If one sees a car she likes, it is brought into the female showroom.

''It's better than seeing the car in a catalog,'' said Maha Mohsen, a marketing representative.

Source: AP/NYT
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      12-13-2006, 10:43 AM   #2
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So it follows then, in keeping with "The kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam has long limited what women can do outside the home, seeking to keep them from coming into contact with men who aren't relatives", that these male drivers that they hire are relatives? Sure, no risk of "innappropriate" contact there, because rich women never fool around with the hired help... I wouldn't even know where to start to describe how backward I think they are in that society...
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      12-13-2006, 03:24 PM   #3
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I didn't think I'd get any replies on this thread...maybe a lot of hits..so I'm really happy you replied Spud.


The Sunni (Al-Qaeda / Sadam Hussein / Saudia Arabia) sect has got to be the strictest interpretation of the Muslim religion there is.

By the way, I wonder how many BMW dealerships there are in the happy kingdom?
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      12-13-2006, 03:41 PM   #4
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The common stereotype would suggest they favor Mercedes, but I'm sure there are a couple of "wild" ones that dare to stray from the norm.

Seriously, I can understand living a principled life, but the Sunni interpretation seems truly oppressive. It's one thing to hold religious principles that discourage inpropriety, but the Sunni example seems to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The most galling aspect is the women, the ones who are most oppressed, who argue vigorously in favor of these principles.

It would be more than incorrect to suggest North American and European societies have it all figured out. Conservative Muslims could point our any number of destructive social issues that are a result of the openness we enjoy. Small price to pay, in my view, for freedom and self-determination.
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      12-13-2006, 04:46 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spudwest View Post
The most galling aspect is the women, the ones who are most oppressed, who argue vigorously in favor of these principles.
Oh yeah...isn't that called the "Stockholm Syndrome"....where the oppressed identify with the oppressor?
I think the latest incarnation of that is in the book, "What's Wrong With Kansas"- where many of the people at the lowest economic rung are against raising the minimum wage-
totally buying into the propaganda that raising wages means loss of jobs.
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