Saudi satire angers extremists

Sunday, November 16, 2003

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi actor Nasser al-Qasabi scanned Web site comments castigating him for appearing in a TV satire about an Islamic religious edict that bans Saudi women from going almost anywhere without a male guardian. One branded him an "ignorant clown."

"I've become immune to the attacks," said al-Qasabi. "It's just a sign of how limited the people who write this stuff are."

The program that drew the criticism was an episode of the popular comedy program Tash Ma Tash, which roughly translates as "Confusion." A fatwa, or religious edict, called unsuccessfully for its banning three years ago.

The offensive episode was called "Without a Mahram," the male guardian who accompanies women outside the home and who must be the woman's father, brother, son or husband.

The episode showed the troubles suffered by the women in one family when the only man in the house has to go away for six months.

Abeer Mishkhas, a columnist for the daily Arab News, said the "heavy artillery" directed at the program shows that "we are not used to criticism and cannot take it when it comes."

In Saudi Arabia, it's not just TV shows that run afoul of the religious establishment. The kingdom regulates even the tiniest aspect of life.

For instance, the religious police prevented a Saudi prince who owns a factory from registering the brand name of a new product because the commission didn't like its name, Explorer. The X, they argued, was a Christian cross.

The prince, Amr Mohammed Al-Faisal, reacted caustically in the Arab News.

"I am greatly relieved that thanks to the vigilance of the commission a great tragedy was avoided," he said. "Until then I had innocently and, I must admit, naively assumed that the letter X was just that, a letter of the alphabet, not as it turns out a cunning and dastardly plot by Christians to corrupt our Muslim faith."

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