Cairo (AsiaNews) – The status of women is changing in the Gulf States. This is especially so in Saudi Arabia where women can now be elected. However, “real change” to women’s conditions can only come through “school and education,” said Nehal El Naggar, Associate Professor at American University in Cairo.
A prominent Egyptian Muslim scholar, she spoke to AsiaNews about last Saturday’s municipal election in Saudi Arabia, the first such exercise for Saudi women, as well as the problem of fundamentalism and the role women can play in the study of religion in the home since they are the first who pass it on.
"Municipal elections represented a big step forward, a real change for Saudi Arabia because granting women a public role is not part of tribal society,” Nehal el Naggar explained. For the scholar, there is a "profound difference" between Islamic and tribal cultures because "Islam gives women a role and a place [in society]. Now tribal culture is especially in for a change because until now women could not play an active role in public life."
At present, women are part of this process and “are gaining a decision-making role. Can you imagine how society might be if “women gain decision-making power? For Saudi society, this would be a momentous shift."
Some small modernising concessions have already been made in Saudi Arabia, at least in some domains and to the benefit of some women who can drive despite the fact that women are banned from getting a driver’s license. However, “the election of women to government is more important than the right to drive."
Asked about the possible change of the role and vision of women in the Muslim world, she immediately stressed the great differences between the various countries. The situation in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, and Lebanon "is very different" from that in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. “They are not comparable. In the Egyptian case, women have been fighting for their rights for decades.”
For Prof El Naggar, “education is what affects change the most because only through it positive developments in Muslim societies are possible.” Increasingly, young men and women reject "certain lifestyles" too closely associated with tradition, and a fundamentalist vision. “They rebel, and seek change."
What is more, "Women are a powerful factor in the fight against extremism,” she said, “because it is women who pass on [a group’s] culture, promote change, and teach children the basics of their faith, the principles of religion."
For example, “My mother educated me in the Islamic faith, a modern Islam. This too is part of the fight against extremist culture . . . because fundamentalism is not religion, and extremists are not people of faith. "
Speaking about recent events like the Paris terror attack, Prof El Naggar noted that “What is happening is due to the fact that second-third generation immigrants live in ghettoes. Parents also send their children to study in their country of origin. It is essential instead that they attend schools in their country of adoption, learning to respect its rules and customs. For its part, the host society, its government, must work towards integration." (DS)