Roses Are Banned, Violets Are Blue


Valentine's Day comes to Saudi Arabia in fits and starts. Stephen Schwartz and Irfan al-Alawi report:

This year's anti-Valentine offensive by the mutawwa was less draconian than usual. It included a stipulation: Non-Muslims in the kingdom–as much as 20 percent of the population (up to 6 million people) because of the immense influx of Western technicians and mostly Christian guest workers from east Asia–would not be molested by the mutawwa if they celebrated the holiday behind closed doors, although Muslims were cautioned against joining in foreign Valentine's Day events. The mutawwa are notorious for bursting into the residences of foreigners to check whether they are consuming liquor, so this Valentine's Day concession to foreigners was more significant than outsiders might think. The privacy of one's home is, after all, foundational to civilized societies.

And the less-than-brutal Valentine's crackdown–bans on the sale of roses notwithstanding–isn't the only optimistic sign:

On February 12, the same day the main warning against Valentines was issued, King Abdullah told foreign journalists that the issue of Saudi women driving cars–long banned, with the prohibition enforced by the mutawwa–is a social rather than a religious issue, to be determined as a matter of state policy instead of theology. If these words are followed up with action, and the matter of women driving is actually removed from clerical control, that will mark a turning point in the history of the kingdom.

Baby steps…

Check out Reason's trove of Saudi treasure here.