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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 10    Issue 16   01-15 January 2016

Minaret Research Network

Women Win elections in Saudi Arabia

Elections to local municipal councils were held in Saudi Arabia on December 12, 2015. A total of 7,000 candidates, including 979 women, contested the elections. A striking feature of the elections was that, for the first time in the kingdom’s history, women were allowed to vote and run for office. Twenty women won their seats. The women who won are from diverse backgrounds, from the capital Riyadh to small villages. Four women were elected from Riyadh and two from Jeddah.

Though the 20 seats won by women account for just one per cent of the roughly 2,100 seats across the country, it marks a step forward in the direction of the empowerment of Saudi women and a harbinger of positive changes in Saudi society.

Most Arab countries have greatly expanded their investment in women’s education. Equality between the two sexes in higher education has been achieved in 12 Arab countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia). In 1970, just 2% of women in Saudi Arabia could read and write. Now the figure is around 80%. Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University, a women’s university located in the capital city of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, is one of the ten largest universities in the world and the world’s largest women’s university with more than 42,000 students. The university, established in 2008, offers courses in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, natural and social sciences, business administration, information and communications technology, social work and humanities. Some 55% of university students in Saudi Arabia are female. More than 150,000 Saudi students, many of them women, are studying abroad.

Gender roles in many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, are undergoing a subtle but highly significant process of transformation. Quite a few Arab women now occupy prominent positions in public life and have successfully made a breach in the citadels of male dominance. Though the government ban on women driving cars remains in place in Saudi Arabia, Saudi authorities issued the kingdom’s first flying license to a female pilot, Hanadi al-Hind. Dozens of Arab women, including those from Saudi Arabia, have joined airlines as flight attendants.

Staggering Costs of Syria’s Civil War

The civil war in Syria, which has been raging across the country for four and a half years, has inflicted a grievous damage to the country’s economy and its people. The economy lies in a shambles. The export of oil, which accounted for about a fifth of the state’s revenues, has come to a standstill. Syrian economy has contracted by half since the start of the conflict. The average salary paid by the state to its employees is a measly $100 per month whereas the average household expenditure is at least $400. Many Syrians depend on funds sent by overseas relatives.

More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives since 2011 and over 11 million have fled their homes. More than four million Syrians have registered with the United Nations as refugees in neighbouring countries and at least half a million have sought asylum in Europe.

According to the United Nations, some 12.2 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance. About half of them are children. People living in areas controlled by rebels depend on food, healthcare and other services provided by NGOs.

Literacy Rates among Indian Muslims Rising

According to the latest data from the 2011 census released by the Indian government on December 30, 2015, Muslims recorded a notable increase in literacy rates, from 59% in 2001 – one of the lowest in the country – to 69% in 2011. Although literacy rates among Muslims are lower than the national average of 73% and the lowest among all religious communities, the gap is rapidly closing. If the present trend continues, and there are strong indications that it will, the literacy rate of the Muslim community – lower than the national average by just 4 percentage points – will be higher than the national average in the coming decade.

Boko Haram on the Retreat?

Boko Haram is an extremist and militant Muslim group in northeastern Nigeria which takes the cult of reckless violence as its guiding principle. Its fighters have been involved in deadly attacks and suicide bombings in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. Since 2009 Boko Haram fighters have killed more than 20,000 people and forced the displacement of over 2.3 million people. Boko Haram fighters kidnapped 276 school girls from Chibok, a town in the northeaster Nigeria, in April 2014. Their whereabouts are still unknown. On December 27-28, 2015, Boko Haram militants attacked Maiduguri, the biggest city in northeastern Nigeria, with rock-propelled grenades and suicide bombers, killing at least 50 people.

Boko Haram has an ideological affinity with al-Qaeda. However, in March 2015 it announced its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Nigerian troops have launched a concerted offensive against Boko Haram hideouts and recovered most of the territories captured by them. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s President, said last week that the Nigerian military had “technically won the war” against Boko Haram. One hopes the Nigerian military manages to destroy this deadly menace.

Islamic Airlines launched in Malaysia

Three airlines from Muslim countries, namely, Saudi Airlines, Royal Brunei and Iran Air, do not serve alcohol or pork in their flights and serve only halal food. Female flight attendants in these airlines wear the headscarf. Rayani Air, Malaysia’s first Islamic airline, took to the skies on December 27, 2015.

The airline, founded by a Hindu couple of Indian origin, serves no alcohol or pork and serves only halal food. Muslim female flight attendants wear the headscarf and non-Muslim staff are required to dress decently. There are separate seating arrangements for men and women in the flights. Prayers are said before the take-off.

Yemen on the Edge of Precipice

Following the Arab Revolution, Yemen has been in the grip of a serious political crisis since 2011. A devastating civil war erupted a year ago with two factions of the government and the Houthis – Shia tribesmen concentrated in the north of the country –pitted against each other. The al-Qaeda insurgency has added to the complexity and gravity of the conflict. In September 2014, Houthis took control of the capital Sana’a, formed a Revolutionary Council and declared that their writ would run across the country.

Deadly attacks and suicide bombings have devastated the country, terrified the population and brought the country on the precipice of humanitarian disaster. In March 2015 suicide bombers targeted two mosques in Sana’a during the Friday prayers, killing at least 126 people. In a span of five months, from March to August 2015, 4,513 people have been killed. An estimated 1.4 million Yemenis have been displaced.

Yemen is one of the world’s poorest countries. The civil war has added to the misery and hardships of the people. More than half the population are now living in extreme poverty, thanks to the conflict, which shows no signs of abating. Nearly 80 per cent of the country’s population – 20 million people – need humanitarian assistance. About 13 million Yemenis are faced with severe food insecurity. More than 3,500 schools have been closed down due to insecurity, affecting 2 million children.

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