New tensions brewing over mixing of the sexes in Saudi?


On Monday, F. Gregory Gause wrote on the ongoing debate on women’s issues in Saudi Arabia in this great piece that appeared in the FP/Middle East Channel. Gause argued that while much of the recent news coming from the Kingdom on this front has been positive, “the pushback from the religious establishment against the very modest steps taken so far indicates that change, if it comes at all, will come slowly.”

Then, in arguing that “reform is on the agenda at last” in Saudi Arabia, Fahad Faruqui wrote in The Guardian that “until now, it was hard to imagine that lifting the ban on gender mixing would even be possible.” Faruqui’s comments were based on the recent remarks by Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, the head of religious police of Mecca, who made another “bold” declaration that Islam does not forbid gender mixing and that it’s only natural for opposite sexes to mingle. Was the final element of resistance (the religious police) to the mixing of the sexes finally beginning to waiver?

It would appear not, at least for now. Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi has been fired by Abdul-Aziz bin Humain, the head of the national religious police. The AP notes that bin Humain “has been billed as a reformer and promised a new tone after being appointed by the king last year,” but that this is a setback for that reputation. “His dismissal of al-Ghamidi shows there are limits to how far he is willing to go,” the AP writes.