10/22/2019, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Riyadh pays influencers for image makeover

Art. 107 which prevented men and women from staying in the same room during municipal councils amended. From mid-October doors open to women in the army. Influencers with millions of followers paid to show the "positive" face of the kingdom. But they can't talk to the press or give interviews.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - More taboos have fallen in Saudi Arabia that have affected women in the country's public and institutional life.

The Ministry of Rural and Municipal Affairs has amended an article of the statute that regulates municipal councils, to allow men and women to sit at the same table in the same room.

Moreover the government has also opened for women to enter the ranks of the army, with the role of sergeant or as a private group.

According to the Al-Watan newspaper, according to the art. 107 now abolished the women elected in the municipal councils [a recent "revolution", of December 2015] had to sit in separate rooms and were connected through closed circuit monitors.

The statute introduced by former minister Abdullatif Al-Ashaikh was today reformed by the current holder of the department Majed Al-Gossabi, after a discussion lasting over three years.

Today men and women will be able to sit together in the same room, participate in meetings, discussions and all those activities related to the position held. According to critics, the previous rule prevented confrontation and discussion, effectively hindering the effectiveness of the councilors' work, which today will be able to sit freely.

In mid-October, the Wahhabi kingdom also opened the doors of the army to women, hailing this on social media as "another step" towards their "responsibility".

For decades in Saudi Arabia, women have been repressed for their activism and the much vaunted "reforms" of the crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (Mbs), including the end of the driving ban, have earned little. The protection of men is considered as a form of gender apartheid, which binds women to their "guardian" and is applied on social networks and in real life.

In recent months the discovery of a huge online database, cultivated for years by the Saudi authorities has raised controversy and protests. It is called "Absher" and recently added a phone app to prevent women from escaping. A check that has been strengthened over the past year, following cases of the flight of young Saudi women who conquered the limelight of international news such as Rahaf Mohammed received in Canada or the two sisters, who fled the family after renouncing the Islamic faith. Now their example is becoming a model to follow.

The reformist image of the kingdom being pursued by Mbs has been tarnished by the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, critical voice of the country's leadership who was brutally murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

According to an investigation the crown prince would be one of the instigators (at least "moral") of the act.

To "clean up" the nation's image and attract a growing number of tourists, Riyadh has relied on leading influencers, even women, followed by millions of people around the world.

This is why in the recent period photos and images of young women have multiplied, wearing the traditional veil, portrayed in some of the places of greatest tourist interest.

These internet stars are picked up with helicopters, housed in luxury hotels, welcomed in resorts on the Red Sea and guided through historical ruins, with posts that gather thousands of "likes" and promise fabulous rewards.

Analysts and experts say that the same Wahhabi kingdom that has invested billions of dollars to "makeover its image" in the West and, to avoid negative comments, has in fact imposed press silence.

According to the Guardian Australia  two influencers - out of about 50 engaged by Riyadh – with over 4.65 million followers, canceled their interview five minutes before the scheduled time.

All this while prohibitions and restrictions remain such as not showing closeness in public, sympathizing with Qatar, practicing another religion than Islam or making ironic or critical comments towards religion, the country or its leadership.

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