Talking Sex in Saudi Arabia

This weekend I did an interview with the BBC World Service about the infamous case of Mazen Abdul Jawad, a 32-year-old Saudi man who has been sentenced to five years in prison and 1,ooo lashes after talking about his sex life on television. While sexual content, such as the type of videos you’d see on somewhere like Tube v Sex, is perfectly acceptable in western cultures, adult entertainment is not appreciated in quite the same way in countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Click here to listen to my interview on BBC’s Newshour (@4:10 into the program), and watch Jawad’s interview below:

(Click here for an English subtitled version.)

In addition to Jawad, I was asked about the fate of 22-year-old Saudi female journalist Rosana Alyami, who has received a considerable amount of Western media attention after being sentenced to 60 lashes for her alleged involvement in producing the show for Lebanese broadcaster LBC.

Interestingly, the Saudi King has pardoned Alyami today. The pardon follows an embarrassing media storm in which, during interviews with the press, Alyami claimed she had no part in producing the program about Jawad. More importantly, she shot back at Saudi authorities who claimed LBC was operating illegally in the country by noting that the Saudi information minister had appeared a few weeks earlier on the station, which in fact is quite well established in the country.

Yet LBC has taken much of the blame in this case. In addition to sentencing Alyami, Saudi authorities have also reportedly shut down LBC’s offices in Jeddah and also sentenced other journalists associated with the station.

Meanwhile Jawad’s lawyer has reportedly claimed that LBC, somehow manipulated his client by “tricking him” into participating in the show.

To be sure, LBC may have exercised poor judgment in this case. To talk about having sex with a neighbor outside of marriage–as Jawad admitted to doing– may have serious consequences for the women in question in a society like Saudi Arabia.

However in my interview with Newshour, I point out the irony in that LBC is not only one of the most popular stations in the Kingdom, but also owned to a large part by a prominent Saudi billionaire prince and media mogul.

In fact, many of the controversies involving Arab television today, whether they be over sexy music videos or “immoral” reality shows have actually been produced to a large extent by Saudi investors.

The case of Jawad’s interview should be seen as part of a long running struggle in Saudi society on many levels, not least of which is today’s pardon issued by the King against the ruling of the religious courts.