Tue, Mar 24, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Hardline Saudi clerics urge authorities to ban music and women on television

AP , RIYADH

A group of hardline Saudi clerics urged the kingdom’s new information minister on Sunday to ban women from appearing on TV or in newspapers and magazines.

In a statement, the 35 clergymen also called on Abdel Aziz Khoja, who was appointed by King Abdullah on Feb. 14 as part of a wide reform drive, to prohibit music and music shows on television.

“We have great hope that this media reform will be accomplished by you,” the statement said. “We have noticed how well-rooted perversity is in the Ministry of Information and Culture, in television, radio, press, culture clubs and the book fair.”

The clerics’ recommendations will probably have little effect because the king’s reshuffle removed a number of hardline figures and is believed to be part of efforts to weaken the influence of conservatives in this devout desert kingdom.

The clerics’ statement does, however, put a degree of pressure on the new minister and lets him know the feelings of the country’s powerful religious establishment.

“No Saudi women should appear on TV, no matter what the reason,” the statement said. “No images of women should appear in Saudi newspapers and magazines.”

Saudi Arabia was founded on an alliance with the conservative Wahhabi branch of Islam that sees music and the mixing of sexes as anathema.

The former information minister, Iyad Madani, earned the ire of hardliners several years ago by allowing music in government-run TV and female journalists to interview men, despite the country’s strict gender-segregation rules.

Women also appear on Saudi TV with their faces showing, while most in public totally cover themselves.

Newspapers publish pictures of Saudi women, but almost always with heads covered, while pictures of Western entertainers are shown, but bare arms and cleavage are painted over.

The clerics include several professors from the ultra-conservative Imam University, Islamic academics, one judge and some government employees.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in town for meetings with Saudi officials, told a news conference that at lunch he sat between a female Saudi surgeon and a female journalist.

He noted that women were allowed to perform tasks such as surgery but not to drive.

“I find that bizarre,” he said.

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