The old saying goes “one picture is worth a thousand words.” Most of Saudi Arabia’s Arabic newspapers carried a photograph on Friday’s front-page that has become a talking point on blogs, Internet forums, shisha places, newsrooms and the corridors of power.
The photo shows Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan proudly standing among more than 35 Saudi women from across the nation who voiced their views during the April 8-10 National Dialogue Forum in Najran.
Many of the women literally are beaming with pride over the honor of being asked to stand with the Kingdom’s rulers. Many people are saying the photo has a symbolic message for the nation that the time has come for women to be recognized.
The women participants of the forum’s session in Najran traveled to the Royal Court in Riyadh on April 25, 2010, to meet the king and the crown prince to brief them about the discussions. At the end of the meeting, a group picture was taken by the royal photographer. That was that.
Two days ago, all the women in the picture got a pleasant surprise when they received a copy of what has now become a famous picture. It was then that the newspapers printed it and highlighted the reactions of the women.
For women at large, there was no great deal about the photograph. “It was not surprising at all,” said Saudi poet Nimah Nawwab. “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah made women part of the civil society delegation to India during his 2006 visit to that country. Pictures of that delegation were also prominently displayed in our media.”
Manal Faisal Alsharief, who heads the women’s section at the Jeddah-based Okaz newspaper, which also published the photo on its front-page, said the publication of this and other such photographs indicate that women are being recognized as partners in progress of this great nation. “Slowly and surely, their contributions are being recognized. And so naturally, we are happy.”
Economic researcher and writer Abdullah Al-Alami was among those who were extremely delighted with the way newspapers treated the photograph. “I saw it in Okaz first ... I wrote to some of the women in the picture congratulating them. They were obviously very excited about it,” he said. “I was happy for them as Saudi women have been oppressed and humiliated enough in the past, and it is about time to recognize their achievements.”
About the significance of the photo at a time when there is so much talk about gender mixing in the local press, Al-Alami said: “We are going through a critical phase of transformation. Saudi women are becoming more involved in public affairs. The message here is to tell the Saudi woman that you are not helpless and that you are not alone.”
He said this was not the first time such a photograph has been published. “No, there were many other events in the past where King Abdullah’s picture greeting women were published. In fact, I presented a study of King Abdullah’s efforts in the development of Saudi women in my lectures at the Jeddah chamber and in Bahrain a few years ago where I showed the significant relationship between the king and his aim to promote Saudi women.”
The king has always stressed the importance of building a consensus on all issues through the National Dialogue. If the blogs, Internet forums, shisha places and newsrooms are any indication, perhaps the nation already has gotten the message.