National Geographic : 2003 Oct
Subversive counterinfluences are as (Continuedfrom page 27) "It's not only a reli gious issue for me, and not even a civil liberties issue," she said quietly. "It's about our families, about what they'd say and think if someone saw me in your magazine. Things like that just aren't done." A day earlier, Saad had briefly talked her into the photo. He's a convincing guy, a 27-year old public relations and advertising man, partly raised in the United States, who picked me up at my hotel wearing tan chinos and a button down oxford shirt. But he's not as convincing as Wafa's parents, who had changed her mind the previous evening in a meeting at their home in Mecca. "The pressure to observe the old ways is exerted most powerfully at the level of the family," notes Prince Abdullah bin Faisal bin Turki, a prominent spokesman for modern ization. "To criticize those ways is to criticize your own parents and grandparents." Yet the old ways themselves were considerably looser a quarter century ago, before the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979 pushed the entire Middle East toward more repressive social norms. Many Saudis on the Red Sea coast, where desert 32 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * OCTOBER 2003 custom is tempered by trade and the constant passage of foreign Muslims on the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, also blame the rise of Ri yadh, which overtook mercantile Jeddah as the nation's most important city in the 1970s. The capital is a chief stronghold of Wahhabism, the seat of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, also known as the mutawaeen, and of the powerful Ministry of Religious Affairs. Subversive counterinfluences, however, are as close at hand as satellite television. To the daugh ters of traditional Arabia who sit glued each afternoon to uninhibited and wildly popular soap operas transmitted from Beirut and Cairo, the message is that women can be good Muslims and serve as government ministers; they can dress as they like, drive their own cars, and run their own businesses. They can dream. Which is one of the main reasons Wafa subjects herself to a 1,000 mile commute every week. "The girls I teach are the daughters of peas ant farmers," she said. "I'm their window to a larger world. What I want for them, what I want for my own daughters, is the possibility to act on their dreams."