Censorship in Saudi Arabia

Magazine Cover

Bridal Dress Accessorized

With the Muttawa’s recent ban on the sale of dogs and cats as these can be used as bait to lure women, one may question the depth of censorship, which will take place in the Kingdom. Mail and packages will be routinely inspected for Islamic content. For example, if one subscribes to Western magazines such as People or Vanity Fair these magazines usually feature attractive women heavily made up and oftentimes scantily dressed. But chances are, unless these magazines were smuggled in undetected in someone’s luggage or purse into the Kingdom, one will find them heavily “doctored.” By doctored, I mean that the women’s faces will be blackened out or if bare skin was showing, it would also be blackened out. Many times I have gone into grocery stores or chemists (pharmacies) in the Kingdom to find products which have faces of women on them such as hair care or make up to be blackened out. Amazing to think that someone’s job is to go around and blacken out faces of women… Another way in which censorship shows itself as well is with the state run tv or at times, Kuwaiti tv. Occasionally these stations will have a western movie. But if the western movie has language or a scene which is considered too racy or inappropriate (such as couple embracing) that will likely be darkened or cut out.

Has anyone seen Piglet

In the digital media, one finds censorship through the blockage of web sites. This is certainly a hit and miss area where whatever algorithms or key word analysis being used in not sufficient. For example, I found some of the web sites pertaining to breast cancer blocked because of the word breast. However, there are certainly work-around to the censorship….all one needs to do is purchase a satellite dish and good receiver. With the satellite, one can view whatever is desired as well as obtain satellite internet, which has no restrictions either. Again, just shows to illustrate how the Kingdom remains contrasts and contradictions.

POSTSCRIPT:  I encourage those who read this posting to visit the Clouddragon blog and read Aafke’s rebuttal to censorship in the Kingdom:  http://clouddragon.wordpress.com/2008/08/27/the-black-hand/

96 Responses

  1. Ironically…in “upholding: Islamic values they completely overlook the obvious…treating the female form as if its in an of itself haram isnt even close to islamic.

    In bahrain they often censor movies and magazines etc…it was much worse before than now…an hour and a half movie would be just an hour…and the whole point of the movie would be lost cause of the censorship. I find that those people hell bent on censoring everything cant seem to realize that adults should be able to and are quite capable of choosing to view or not view such images…we are not children that need to be guided away from “haram”.

    Incidently I always wondered about the men(always men Im sure) that view films and look at magazines etc in order to darkern them…they must really be reciting those stagferAllahs the whole time they are at work…what fortitude and moral center that they can resist such corruption….which we were all capable of such spirituality.

  2. btw Ive often wondered why viewing violence is perfectly acceptable…those scenes are never cut out.

  3. forgive me but are “heavily made up” and “scantily dressed” your words or taken from somewhere (saudi rule book of sorts)? The only heavily made up person I’ve ever seen in People was Jon Benet Ramsey, and dresses and bikinis aren’t scanty… they’re short, or.. you know.. bikinis. better a bikini than a shroud, I say, especially while the men get to dress in whatever and go/do what/wherever they want.

    Oh wouldn’t it be amusing to listen to all the vociferous whining that would go on if our roles were reversed with theirs in a country like KSA? I wish someone would make a movie about that.. hahaha

  4. Andrea,

    Yes; heavily made up and scantily dressed are my words.

    Coolred – I’m sure the ones doing the censoring are men although at the same time there are likely a group of women who are in complete agreement and would maybe be even stricter censors than the men.

    hmmm….I like the idea of a Tash ma Tash episode which would reverse the role of men and women in KSA…imagine that, women doing the driving, the man asking to be taken somewhere…the men covering and wearing niqab, the women sitting at the coffee cafes together…and the images go on!

  5. “Incidently I always wondered about the men(always men Im sure) that view films and look at magazines etc in order to darkern them…”
    No men are involved. It is a team 200 eunuchs, laid off from former Ottoman harems that do all the censoring..

    And that censor that blackened Piglet was a special type of Nut. He never got that memo that said Allah forbade EATING Pigs not LOOKING at them!

    I wish the issue of censorship stops at magazines and movies, people found ways around that. However, the censorship extends to knowledge and disallow or severely limit books on many topics including:
    – Philosophy
    – Political Science
    – Other religions of course
    – Social sciences
    – Scientific subjects like evolution
    – etc.

  6. My goodness, I can hardly believe it! One must STILL endure the beards trying to throw inky black covers over women who aren’t even moving? Women who aren’t multi- dimensional, aren’t even alive? I have to laugh. Such childishness is unbecoming of a country that holds custody of Makkah and Madina.

  7. Coolred38, well they still have public, flaying severed head/hands/feet(?) and spurting bright red arterial blood executions, dont they?

  8. Haha this reminds me, I was watching an episode of the US version of The Office a few days ago here in the Emirates. They cut completely a scene where Steve Carrel kisses a gay employee in front of everyone but left in the hug. This was on pay-tv too (Showtime).

  9. Oh boy, is this a pet peeve of mine. Thanks for a great topic once again, Carol.

    I wonder – why does the blackening-out not apply when it comes to , say Sayidaty magazine for example? It always has heavily made up women who are NOT dressed in Abaya on its front cover?!

  10. And if anyone has travelled on Saudi airlines & watched in-flight entertainment, have you noticed there are grey blobs on the screen where a woman’s bare arms might be?

    Does it not occur to whoever does these idiotic things that it just draws MORE attention to the fact that the woman is wearing a sleeveless shirt, for e.g. Whereas no one may have noticed before!

  11. Thanks all for the interesting and enlightening comments. It is true, censoring does go way beyond just the blackened magazines or black outs during some movies. Yes, in many circles Sociology, Philosophy is taboo. I had prepared a lecture on the impact of personality on team building and in work environments. It was a totally new concept among many of the Saudis for such a topic had not been discussed before.

    Riyadh Mom – I sure do not know why Sayidaty can get prominent display with the heavily made up Arab women…I think alot of that is hit and miss…

  12. Censorship is no different than the relationship between a master and a slave. The master wants to keep control of the slave.

    Now do we really want these masters without any servants?

  13. Have any of my brethren in KSA thought of why we are called “Saudi’s”?

    I commend you Carol for having the courage to write on this topic. I know these blogs are monitored and I hope our “master’s” are mindful, for the reason why we have not progressed.

    Let not these silent words go unheard.

    sorry folks, this topic has made me very emotional. I will take leave and bid you all farewell.

  14. You touched on one of my sensitive points S H and that is the inherent risk taken with any blog post that coudl be viewed as sensitive. Yes; I am fully aware the blogs are monitored…the arabic ones more so than the English language ones but still, it can be a calculated risk. Yet there are many issues where the “head should not be buried in the sand” and these issues (I believe) can be presented in a constructive and non-confrontational manner).

    I sure hope your farewell SH is only temporary!

  15. Allahol mosta’aan,

    Is this a secret gathering spot for Saudi bashers? Is there no good discussed relating to life in the Kingdom? I truly wonder why so many people remain in such a ‘backward’, ‘corrupt’, and ‘oppressive’ society?

    Carol, I’m advising you sister to always maintain balance (even in your blog). You are truly portraying a country in an unfair manner. I’m not aware of your early blog posts, but from following your blog for just a few weeks now this is all I see.

    There is seriously injustice occurring here. Why is this country a home to millions of expatriates? I’ve lived both in the Kingdom and abroad… I can’t even compare the lifestyles (in favor of Saudi ofcourse walhamdulilah).

    -your brother

  16. Ali,

    Responses are responses. Opinions are what they are.

    Another thing, Carol has posted on the good in Saudi even within the last month.

  17. Stay tuned Ali…I’m sure you will find my future posts to be very diverse in subject matter…and also encourage you to go back to past posts. Saudi Arabia gives one a full spectrum of issues and topics on which to write and discuss.

    Thanks for your comment, Ryan.

  18. Ryan,

    I’m curious, if you don’t mind me asking… do you live in Saudi?

  19. No I live in Abu Dhabi

  20. I had no plans to come this soon. I reflected and thought why be afraid to express myself. Then to see this comment from Ali proved the point of people trying to censor speech even here on the Internet.


    You have a lot to learn. If you are not happy with what you read here, why do you come back? You can always visit one of those all giddy sites that make you feel so proud to be a slave.

    You are a very insecure person. Now to ask others of where they are from, do you really need to know this? Have you become the protector for the lands of of your masters?

    Please educate yourself and stop living in delusions of grandeur. Learn to think and use logic.

    Now I hope you feel good to be attacked, like you have done to others in the past day. Even this sarcasm is way beyond your pay grade.

    Good day!

  21. I always laugh when I go to the store and see the lady on the front of the Nair box blackened out, or the mom on the box of a kid’s pool toy. I always wondered who gets paid to sit around with a sharpie and do that all day?
    Maybe the guy who blacked out piglet (im still laughing at that) was at the end of his shift and the sharpie fumes got to his brain!

    I appreciate the effort to “protect” the minds and eyes of Muslims, but IMO this goes a little to far. More attention should be payed to the 600 porn channels that are avaliable for nearly nothing.
    And as far as censoring TV here goes, I’m more offended by the “F” word at 2 in the afternoon than a husband and wife embracing.

    Maybe next, they will start censoring clothes…last winter at LaSenza there were reindeer pajamas!!! Oh the controversy!!!

  22. Thanks for all the comments. And I think it is good that for those of us in KSA with the censored blackouts to be able to laugh and see the humor…. I mean I’ve even seen where the mom on a box of pampers has been blackened out! (LOL)

    You’re right Umm Sumayah…I was shocked and embarrassed when flipping through the Hotbird satellite choices and to find … well…like you said, pornography channels. All we did was buy a satellite dish and receiver and did not subscribe to any particular networks, these channels were free for viewing. However I have since learned that there are ways to block and lock these channels too. But I’m sure for some, it could be these channels that are giving some Saudis (and others) their idea of sex education and enlightenment (la howla qota la billah)….

  23. I may ask questions about certain things, but I believe Carol’s blogs seem to be quite mild and fair, and don’t usually come across as bashing any particular side. The comments are another story, but that’s why I come here… because I prefer the rational mid-road discussion/argument way more than far to the right, far to the left pontificating, and love to see in the comments that people from all ranges of opinion feel free to comment (and/or even pontificate or argue).

    Keep doing what you’re doing which IS a “good discussion of life in the kingdom”! (Or are we supposed to simply not talk about the bad – i.e. real – and only about what we’re allowed to say is good?)

  24. thats crazy that that much porn is available where print is so heavily censored!

    Generally, and off topic, it is kind of worrying to think how many people/teenagers base on idea of sex on what they see in porn movies. I saw a very funny comedic video yesterday ‘if porn did real sex’….it was uncomfortably hilarious in its accuracy:) and so so so different from other videos out there…

  25. Interesting discussion and I agree that Carol’s blog is very balanced and gives the good and the bad without overstepping the line (IMHO).

    As for censoring… I was surprised to find that even the word ‘pork’ is censored. I bought a jar of sauce to marinade meat or fish in and there were serving suggestions on the jar and I could see the word pork had been blacked out.

    Same with the Mothercare catalogue – the women in there are not made up at all but any women in the catalogue had been digitally whited out.

    I can understand some censoring but it does go a little too far.

  26. Andrea, Mairead, Umm Ibrahim,

    Thank you all for your comments and your support. It means a lot to me to know what readers enjoy and why they return for if it were not for ya’ll, this would be a lonesome blog.

    Umm Ibrahim – that is interesting to learn that the word porked would be blackened out as well. Live and learn! And I guess that also illustrates whoever did that censoring understood English and did not rely solely on a visual!

  27. I have this picture in my head of a huge warehouse somewhere and stacks and stacks of books, magazines and boxes piled around one little guy in traditional Saudi dress with his Sharpie spending all day scribbling in bare shoulders, mid-riffs and thighs. What would that do to your head?

    I find Saudi censorship just confusing. There has been this ad running on TV for the “IT Crowd” where one of the characters says to another, ” I like you, you’ve got beep, you’ve got balls!” I believe the word that is beeped out is “spunk.” What is wrong with spunk? Why is balls ok and spunk isn’t?

    Like satellite TV and internet, I find it equally strange legitimate movies sold legally are heavily censored. But, the Indian guy with his kiosk on the street sells pretty much whatever in terms of pirated content. I think that is one for the copy police.

  28. Speaking of pork, theres only very limited places in the UAE where you can buy it. I was shopping in a normal supermarket (which cannot sell pork) the other day and saw “Tomato and Bacon” pasta bake jars stocked up on the shelf with everything else. I looked at the ingredients and one of them was……pork! I bought one, and came back the next week to see if they were still there. Nope, someone realised someone elses mistake. lol

  29. Carol’s blog is very balanced, I think most Westerners blogs would probably be far more critical.

    Again, this is a case of appearance over substance. The Saudi government is ALL about appearance. They want to APPEAR religious, they want to APPEAR to be moral, but the truth couldnt be more distant.

    It would be hard to find a government that is more unIslamic in it’s actions or in it’s choices of who they pick to represent them.

    The Saudi government here in the DC area is the PRIME example. We can quickly move past “Mr 20%” because he is no longer here. By “Mr 20%” it is a reference to the cut he took on all contracts he facilitated.

    The current Saudi Ambassador is best known for his really hot girlfriend that was the talk of the Saudi Embassy when he paraded her around for everyone to see shortly after he was installed.

    There is a hookah/alcohol bar near my house. If you ever want to seek help from your local Saudi diplomat a good chunk of them will be there getting drunk at any given time. I once drove by and counted 5 cars in the parking lot with Saudi diplomatic plates.

    Yeah, their diplomats and officials are off around the world with their girlfriends and getting drunk, but God forbid their regular people at home see a bare arm.

    That is the reality of Saudi Arabia, from top to bottom.

  30. Carol I think your blog censored my post about pork… it never appeared. lol

  31. LOL! I like the picture of the news-stand! The demure bride is blacked out while the hussy to the lower right, and her neckline plunging to the navel is left unencumbered!

    It must be great to spend your days with a big black marker, getting to enjoy all the haraam images, and then blacking them out so nobody else will get aroused by them!
    Oops, oh, no! The rest of the pious males are sitting at home watching their pornchannels?

    No wonder Saudies are so weird, if they get their sexual education by watching sick porn!

    I always think that Bedu goes out of her way to describe KSA in a friendly light. And anyway, everybody else is allready convinced that Saudies are nuts, so Bedu is actually makeing a change for the better. She made me think in a much more positive way.
    Anyway, you can’t blame Bedu for all the hypocrasy going on, she just mentions what other people are doing.

    But why point out the utter uselessness of the Marker-squad?
    Be glad they don´t get to do anything more effective. This way everybody is much happier.

  32. This isn’t the case in the UAE where if you want all you do is go to the Jumeriah beach to see not only a bare arm, but bare pretty much everything – in flesh! Abu sinan is right – it’s all about experiences.

    As an aside, I wonder how the guy who does this blackening describes his job to others?

  33. Ali, you can’t have been lokking right, remember all the vèry positive posts on Bedu’s experiences, in hospital, and with the staff? And her lovely MIL? And the interesting trips she made? And the wonderful vet dr, Majed. And our new Arab hero, the man who resqued the kitten, The list we drew up of arab hero’s, and…. and…. and….

    I’m afraid you only seem to remember the things you don’t like. This way you miss out on so much!

    Mezba: As enjoying the good, and then forbidding others to do the same.:mrgreen:

  34. @ Umm Ibrahim,
    If you ever watch the cooking shows of Fatafeat, or watch Rachel Ray on MBC4, whenever pork or alcohol is used, they translate the pork to beef, and the alcohol to vinegar in the arabic text below! As if watching a cooking show including a slice of pig will utterly offend some people.
    Allahu Alim

  35. And let’s not forget, for some real personal experiences with some really disgusting hypocitical Saudies we can always rely on some of our fellow commentators.

    I am reminded of the ”rules” I get sometimes when I illustrate Children’s books in England; Harper/Collins gave me a list of do’s and don’ts!

    Dó put in: many old people, wheelchairs, hearing aids, and lot’s of ethnic minorities, etc.

    Dón’t put in: Pigs, because that will offend the muslims, witches, because that will offend the Jehova’s witnesses, or nakedness because that will offend the americans, etc.

    When I pointed out that I considered their anti-witches clause pretty insulting to modern witches, besides being discriminatory, they smiled silly, but insisted I kept to the list.
    I thought then as I do now; it’s quite allright if you don’t want to eat pigs, I don’t either, but really pathetic if you have problems seeing them on a drawing.

    Anyway, I once had to block out some slight cleaviges on a fat woman im a fairy-tale I illustrated, because the American public would be upset by it. Yeah, duhh, like their kids don’t watch MTV or what?
    Americans can be hypocritical too. ( Just to keep the balance while bashing)

  36. I just came back to this post after hours – have been going through Carols archives today:)

    Ali – you’re being unfair. Go through the archives and read up before passing judgement. This blog is very well balanced and I for one have learnt a lot of positive stuff about Saudi by being a regular here and there’s a wealth of information in here for the new comer in Saudi.

  37. I wanted to add – but clicked on submit before I could:
    I wish this blog had been around years ago when I moved here. Would have saved me some grievance!

    So go back and read up Ali – Carol works pretty hard at being objective and you shouldn’t belittle her effort when you hardly know.

    Keep up the good work Carol!

  38. Wow all….I was away from the ‘puter several hours and want to thank EVERYONE for all of their comments and welcome our new arrivals as well.

    Ryan – I didn’t censor but for some reason your comments which mentioned pork got sent to the spam folder – all on their own! (LOL)

    Abu Sinan – I don’t want you to think I am picking on you but I did come to the Kingdom from the WDC area and just want to say that not all the Saudi officials in WDC are hookah smoking, alcohol guzzling liars! I met and continue to know some pretty decent ones, and especially when I was going through the process of finding out what all I needed to ship my three cats (at the time) here to KSA. The embassy support was incredible!

    Umm Sumayah – that is interesting to learn that the arabic is loosely translated when it comes to the cooking shows. I was not aware of that!

  39. LOLOL, I guess the ‘Spam’ folder is the perfect place for porky comments! (I don’t know if you get Spam in the US, it’s a very Brit thing though: a big chunk of of pork in a tin!).?

  40. Oh yes, Umm Ibrahim. Spam was (or perhaps still is) sold in the US too!

  41. mmmmhmmmm. Hawai’i mcdonalds serves spam, eggs and rice. Loves it!

  42. Ali,

    “There is seriously injustice occurring here. Why is this country a home to millions of expatriates?”

    Wow, The BIG injustice is not Carol writing about censorship in Saudi. It is a government that does not allow it’s people to have access to knowledge. You do not see a problem with that a child grows up with a third rate Education. Saudi Arabian Universities scored among the lowest in the world. One of the primary reasons for that low score is that there is a restriction on knowledge enforced by not allowing people to speak their minds and censoring the information they receive.

    This is not injustice, this is treating a serious problem. I have been watching your comments and everything a topic comes up that has negativity you start your blind defense. Why not try something Novel like recognize the problem and educate others around you about it.

    Most of the people that write comments on the articles speak their own mind, but I guess you are not used to that. Have you thought that the primary reason you react badly to people speaking freely is that you live in a a place where people cannot do that? Do you think people are just out to get Saudi, when most are Muslims or friendly to Muslims here? The reason they comment in such manner is that the Ultra conservatives have implemented the Weirdest set of rules in the world over a population of 27 Million people. That is the INJUSTICE.

    Before you start calling me a basher. I was born and raised in Saudi. I Love Saudi Arabia more than you think and I will criticize such practices that keep our people in the dark. It comes out of love not hate. Get your head out of the sand and start looking, there are many problems with the way the country operates.

  43. @Ali,

    The country is a home to millions of expats because the Saudis pay far too much to do work that Saudi citizens should be doing themselves but are unable/unwilling to.

    What would Saudi Arabia be without oil and the money they get from it? A quick look at Yemen would tell you. Saudi Arabia, especially outside of the Hijaz, would be one of the poorest and most illiterate nations in the world.

    Even with all of the money that the oil has brought the country is still backwards, has no work ethic and would sink in the sand if the oil stopped today.

    Why? Because of closed minded people and it’s leaders who would rather spend the money on themselves. Saudi could be an oasis to the world, instead it remains nothing more than an oil rich backwater.

    The people of Saudi Arabia deserve a lot better than what they are being given by their leaders. But, like any other people in the world, unless things get too bad they will do nothing about it.

    Sad, because they deserve better, but they’ll never get it waiting on the royal family to give it to them.

  44. Carol, first I want to thank you for this wonderful blog. I have been a causal lurker of this site for a few months now. It is refreshing to read your words and comments from the many visitors on this site.

    Saudi in US has become my hero of hope. My dear elder brother Saudi in US, I pray that we have many more the likes of you come forward from the land of our birth. You have shown me hope. Keep on helping us to have better understanding and clarity in our thinking.

    Abu Sinan, it is easy to generalize and I hope you know that, all people from KSA do not reflect the misgivings of the few. I’m sure you know this, from being married to a hijazi. Make a prayer for those of us that are still in the dark.

    Thank you for this wonderful blog Carol. Thank you all to all the wonderful signs of hope.

  45. Now I know why the local Wally-World is always out of black Sharpies!

  46. S H – I am very happy to have you hear and glad you decided to stop lurking! (smile)

    Always – that’s a good one!

  47. oopppsss…I meant to say “here” and not hear!

  48. censorship is like a virus…spreading across the UN & coming to a city near you soon…
    Led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a Saudi-funded international body made up of 56 Islamic states from around the globe, the push seeks to empower all governments to punish citizens who “defame” any religion — particularly Islam.

  49. @ creeping,

    Is this any different than what the Jewish Defense League has been doing? The JDL in many ways has been even more guilty of censorship. Even rewriting history books.

    I believe you are reading too much into this effort by the OIC. This is a call for clarity and stopping misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims.

  50. I think most cultures have some form of censorship and from one degree to another. Saudi censorship I find quite interesting. I don’t necessarily mind that porn magazines aren’t permitted in the country. I am confused about the guys and their little black markers, but I guess it a. gives them a job and b. is better than not allowing magazines at all.

    Can full censorship ever work? Nope there is always a way around it. Is this a contradiction on behalf of an entire country? Or is it just a reflection on how things can be had even if it is illegal and a country works against it on a big or small level.

  51. @Nzingha,

    There is censorship with a lower case “c” and Censorship with a capital “C”. In Saudi it is with a mindless capital C.

    The picture Carol added shows this greatly. Pigglet from Whinny the Poo is blacked out?

    When you have state sanctioned censorship but no set guidlines as to how it is going to work or even what it over the top and what isnt, it becomes a sham.

    Somethings should be banned, no one denies that. Porn is a good example, but the rest needs to be left up to the people making the choice. People can and should have the right to choose for themselves.

    In Saudi there are a small minority that want to do the thinking for the entire populice. These same people would want to do it on a larger scale if they came to power in any other state. They dont want people to think, they want to make the choices for them.

    Forget that, I am an adult, I choose free will.

  52. @ Abu Sinan
    In all fairness, I have to come to the defense of the Sharpie guy – not all the piglets everywhere are blacked out. I’ve bought plenty of books here for my child and a lot of Winnie the Pooh stuff too. I’ve never actually seen a blacked out Piglet – so maybe that was an isolated incident? Maybe Sharpie Guy was super bored that day. Who knows?

  53. Riyadh Mom,

    You make the point I brought up above. Without a standard of what is going to be censored and what is not, you will have somethings banned some places, other things allowed. It is purely subjective and completely subject to the whim of the person doing the censoring.

    Why not allow people to have freedom of will? After all, Islam allows us such freedom, with the responsibility. Why do some people think they must control others?

    “Sharpie guy” should be given job retraining and maybe he can fill one of those high tech jobs the Saudis are spending their money on getting foreigners to come to the country.

  54. S H,

    Thanks for your kind words. We are all sons and daughters of a country that can be great. We need many heroes that speak the truth and help our people develop a great nation and civilization.

    I encourage you to read the comments on this Ameicanbedu article there was some discussions about Saudi heroes. Please add any you can think of to the list


    As you may notice from my comments Abdul Rahman al-Lahem is my favorite as of late.

    I am glad to see your comments on the blog.

  55. Actually I have wondered who exactly does the censoring and blacking out. I will see magazines for example on newstands or items on shelves with blackened out parts but I’ve never seen anyone actually do the blackening out. Anyone have any info?

  56. Another great post, Bedu, and great comments too.

    Let me say first that I think Ali has’not read enough of your past blogs and has somehow jumped to an erroneous conclusion. American Bedu’s blog is exactly the opposite of what he said. You are fair, sensitive and impartial. I don’t feel that you said anything incendiary in this post, you are merely forthcoming with the way things are here. To misconstrue this as Saudi-bashing is way off base.

    I just don’t understand the inconsistencies with all the censorship – like your top photo shows a bride blacked out but other covers next to and below that one have women with plenty of skin showing. It is a well known fact that women have arms, legs, necks, etc. just like men do. God – or Allah – made us that way. I see all this censorship as trying to make us somehow ashamed of ourselves and our bodies. To try to prohibit people from seeing a woman’s arm in print is just silly to me, especially when one can just turn on the TV here and see lots more than that. I think this kind of attitude tends to make men here dwell on the sexual nature of women even more since so much is denied or forbidden.

    And to black out Piglet is just senseless. Just because pigs aren’t allowed in this country doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s ludicrous to deny the existence of one of God’s creatures like that.

  57. The secret ”Society of the Black Hand” flit around during the night hours, they have duplicate keys to stores, and kiosks, and warehouses, as they have to work quickly, so they sometimes miss a cleavage, pig or bare arm.
    This makes them very unhappy, they used to have a system of punishment: for every bare arm missed one digit was chopped off, for one cleavage, or pig, a whole finger. A woman in lingerie would cost you your hand. And… for a naked woman… that part of the male anatomie that does most of their thinking.
    This caused great problems in the secret society, after many years nobody could hold a marker anymore. there was also the fear of extinction… So the custom of chopping off body-parts was discontinued.

    Abu sinan, do you really think that people who go about with markers, and can’t even blacken out offending images in a neat way, but scratch over the page like a toddler in a tantrum, do you really think you can rehabillitate them to become computer experts?????

    Bedu, given the surripticious ways of the Black Hand, I don’t think anybody can tell you anything more than I did.

  58. LOL Aafke…

    Does that also explain the black Salafi women gloves. Are the members of the Society of the Black Hand in fact females with black gloves, since all the males went extinct?

    By the way only a real nerd can have such imagination. I am so proud of you Mighty Priestess of the Secrete Nerd Society:)

  59. @Abu Sinan
    I just felt sorry for Sharpie Guy!
    But you’re right – there should be some standards about what gets censored and what doesn’t. And there seem to be none. All of it seems pretty random.

    Tubes of cosmetics or creams might have blacked out images – but go buy some Avent products … yup, you guessed it: no blacked out women there!


  60. Saudi in US, no, there still were the young boys to follow in their fathers footsteps. But they dó have a woman’s squad, especially for women’s only stores and malls. They dó wear black gloves, very handy in disguising their hands, which are always full of black dye.
    The woman’s squad is always composed of females from the same family, so they only need one mahram to drive them about. In a black hummer, donated by the Commission for the Promotion of Vice and the Prevention of Virtue.

    They have been known to stage raids on office supplies-shops when the supply of black markers was running out, but those are the only occassions anybody has ever seen them.
    The discriptions are always the same: a group of women, wearing black over-the-head abayas, and black niqabs, (tripple veiled ones), and black gloves, stockings and shoes.
    Although there have been ghost pictures made, and the discriptions have been widely distributed, no arrests have yet been made.

    PS, your link to that post is not really a good choice, as we had been going on first for about 50 comments on how àwful Saudi men are…

    Riyadh Mum, what are avent products? And why don’t they get markered out?

  61. Aafke,

    It is OK. Men have got used to being villains, but at least you ladies got nice at the end. I always remember the last comment the most. So you better say something nice about us at the end of the comments on this post or suffer the rage of the Black Hands:)

  62. It was a grim post, I also remembered the positive last comments best, only when I clicked the link did I remember the post they belonged to.

  63. So, Piglet has now the power to overthrow a kingdom? I did not know O.O

    No, seriously, I did not know it was _so_ bad with the censorship!

  64. Saudi in US,

    I appreciate your kind words, thank you. I am sure to the causal observer, they may misunderstand our words and may even accuse us of being ungrateful to the country of our birth. Certainly this is not the case.

    I am aware of Abdul Rahman al-Lahem and he indeed is a hero to all of us. An American colleague of mine, a plastic surgeon, forwarded a story (Time Magazine Blog) about him last year. We have many people who are not even from our country admiring this great man. It made me proud, just as today, reading his name.

    I will take a look at the other story by Carol and try to give my input.

    Thank you again.

  65. susieofarabia,

    “And to black out Piglet is just senseless. Just because pigs aren’t allowed in this country doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It’s ludicrous to deny the existence of one of God’s creatures like that.”

    This is the result of people not thinking and elimination of analysis. Pigs are like any other creation the only difference is they are not permitted for consumption. They were addressed specifically by name because they fit in a category of Halal animals that have a specific description which is a split hoof (ex. sheep, goats, etc.). Since they fit they generic group they had to be identified specifically as an exception to the rule.

    I do not think Allah intended that we treat pigs any different than animals that are prohibited for consumption like a bear for example. The only difference is a bear was not identified specifically, because bears fit under the prohibition of animals with fangs.

    Blackening piglet and not Boo is a true example of halting the use of the brain and just blindly following edicts. Too much of this lack of analysis exists with the ultra conservatives, who would rather prohibit everything instead of taking any risks on analysis. The irony is Allah also made it a major sin to prohibit things that are permitted under his rules.

  66. Reading the Arabic translations at the bottom of movies and shows etc on tv can be much more entertaining than whatever the program has to offer. Just wanted to throw that in there.

    The problem with censoring(other than the obvious) is that it causes a a country that has the potential to be great…to remain mediocre…which is a damn shame. Whats even more shameful…when the population by and large puts up with it…and continues living with the “flock mentality”. Saudis should be the most vocal when it comes to demanding what should be the basic right of every citizen on this planet….the right to open a book…any book…and read whatever the hell is written there…and then make up their minds about whether its something worth knowing…or best avoided. Same with pics…I find it strange that violence is allowed to be viewed without a single sec edited out for public consumption…but the image of a mother hugging her son….or a bare arm etc gets cut without a sec thought…in other words…humanity is cut out…violence is left in…and the society you are left with is a direct result of this. Just my opinion.

  67. Oh Aafke, you should send your “Society of the Black Hand” to the producers of Tash ma Tash and the genesis of how discussing the society got started. Although Tash ma Tash is over (Waaahhhh) this would make a hilarious comedy while at the same time sending the message about the extreme of censorship!

    Ramadan is upon us so it will be interesting to see what Ramadan commercials are aired for I have noticed that during Ramadan you see more commercials which focus on family, love and affection that thankfully the censors have left alone!

  68. […] Some one being ‘creative’, adding a niqab! Reminding of a blog I read yesterday by American Bedu on censorship within the Kingdom. A very lively debate ensued via the comments. […]

  69. @abu Sinan- some of it has to do w/ the region one is and their standards. As well as who is on the job. Not different than other countries when it comes to goverment regulations. Some things differ from state to state for example in the US, no different here in Saudi on some issues, like the Mr. Sharpie guys.

    Here in Khobar for example we don’t have many Mr. Sharpies, in fact I think the main population is in Riyadh. You rarely see things blackened out here. Jeddah is the stomping ground for immorality (according to the heavily religious in riyadh) so no surprise you might see many piglets floating about in the Jeddah markets.

    Censorship in this country never had any real standards to begin with. And this represents so many other areas of law and regulations. And this goes back to full censorship never being able to work. And because it doesn’t it doesn’t really indicate a contradiction by the entire government.. but rather the realities of the world and the ways and means to gain information be it bad or good.

  70. Ali, sorry but as you were a male in this VERY MALE society in Saudi Arabia, YOU really just don’t get it. For those of us who have put in our years here, we see the good and the bad. I think that Carol is one of the most diplomatic bloggers on the net (no pun intended but her background does help)…and I’ve told her this many times. It is the responses perhaps that you don’t like. Unfortunately, many of our complaints at times are about real issues that we are all dealing with on a day to day basis. KSA has come so far, but that doesn’t mean we should stop here.

    Carol, a few years ago, I used to spend hours on the plane coming from the states blacking out the scantily clad gals so I could get my magazines in. Now, they are searching for WMD’s so they don’t care so much about the magazines if they are for you! : )

    Some censorship might be a good idea to keep a lot of the violence and sex off the airwaves and away from our children. Better idea I think is to turn off the t.v. and let them play outside like the rest of us did or open movie houses and play good films.

    It seems that the way people talk, everything bad that happens around the world happens here also…just under cover.

  71. Awwww piglet!

  72. Enjoyed all the latest comments and hope to see more.

  73. EVERYONE who gets this far with all the comments simply MUST visit Aafke’s blog and read her rebuttal to the censorship issue:


  74. I thought you folks may get a kick out of reading this:


    ” A number of members of the religious police (the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) have urged the Chairman of the Saudi Shura Council, Dr Saleh Bin Humaid, to enable them to have access to blocked websites to monitor immoral practices by visitors of these sites.”

  75. That is hilarious S H … now maybe I’m dense, but if the sites are already blocked, how can they monitor the immoral practices of visitors of these sites? Are they talking about the visitors who are not in Saudi Arabia or (if I’m not giving to much credit here…) wanting to figure out how many visitors are from Saudi but perhaps using satellite internet to get around the blockage?

  76. You got it Carol, the whole issue is a farce. Most of the blocked sites are still assessable via satellite internet and establishing proxy. These folks can make better use of their time, than to be the laughing stock of the world.

    What we do need is brighter people in in the religious field and that we are still in the dark ages.

    My intent was to share it as a joke, for that is what the religious police have become.

  77. Stay tuned…I have a forthcoming post about the muttawa which I’m sure will generate comments and ongoing dialogues.

  78. SH, excellent! What can a visitor to a site actually do that is unlawful? I think they are bored, and just want some tittillation for themselves!

    Bedu: be careful! How can you be both diplomatic ànd write about the muttawa?

    I do remember one commentor here describing how she was once accosted in english by a clean, very polite and reasonable muttawa.

  79. One of the funniest muttawa stories I have heard recently was from a Saudi woman…. she was walking from a department store (in Riyadh) to her villa which was just an easy walk away. A Muttawa vehicle pulled up beside her, a muttawa jumped out and accosted her saying they just saw her get out of a vehicle with a man so she must come with them for interrogation. She spoke sharply to the muttawa in Arabic, attacked him with her oversize purse and ran the few remaining yards to the gate of her villa where she was able to call the police!

  80. Amazing, it seems they think they just have to make a ”lucky dip” and probably success will follow!

    Never underestimate a woman carrying a large purse!
    One woman here in my city chased away an attacker with a knife by seriously bashing him with her bag!

    I can easily imagine a booklet full of muttawa stories and ”Danish Cartoons”

  81. So does anyone see a difference of the behavior of these muttwas and that of a common street thugs. Oh with the exception that the street thugs can actually go to jail for that.

    One thing that theses people miss that terrorizing women or anyone for that matter is a major sin under Islam. However, I must be misinterpreting the religion here, because they hold all the right knowledge.

  82. yes there is a difference: other thugs usually operate more discreet, the muttawa operate in broad daylight and in full public view.

    Ànd they are totally convinced of their own superiority, while the common street-thug is quite aware they are doing something ”wrong”

  83. okay…..hold your muttawa comments and thoughts for just a few days…..the muttawa post is coming!

  84. No we cannot wait we want to vent now.

    I know how to punish them. I have a hair comb in one hand and a clipper in the other ready to make those beards look civilized. I just need a big bruiser to hold them down!!!

  85. We will wait….
    I’ll I’ll vent my evil tendencies by making a danish cartoon in the mean time…

  86. I wonder how much these muttawa get paid to censor and make people miserable?

  87. Hello! Have blogged and linked to your post. I don’t have anything to add to this discussion that a generic American opinion wouldn’t cover. :] Bless ya.

  88. Wanna start us off again Bedu?
    I have been wondering about that too…
    I have some ideas…

  89. @Saudi in the USA,

    Can this big tattooed bruiser volunteer to help hold down the religious police?? At six foot 2 and 225 pounds I think I can fit the bill.

    Maybe we can do a Western style marathon and get donations for each one we shave. All donations going to women’s rights groups and religious tolerance groups.

  90. LOL Abu, I knew I can count on you. You got the job…

  91. I remeber when I was teaching Kindergarten three years ago, all pics of pigs were blackened as well!!

    I was advised by my sypervisor who was American not to teach the kids the word “pig” as an example of letter”P”!!

    I was shocked and asked her why!! She was like ” You know muslims prohibit pigs,”!!

    “I know it’s forbidden to eat it but not to mention it, they will know this word and this animal eventually”!!

    I have always thought of this issue “being blackened” also on magazines and newspapers!! As if blacking it will prevent people from seeing such stuff!!

  92. Thanks for your comments H S. Interesting to know that pig was viewed as politically incorrect to be used in teaching the letter “p”

  93. Brilliant Bedu: Petulanty Politically incorrect Piglet Priggishness
    That should teach them the P of Pig!

  94. Properly provactively personably said dear Aafke!

  95. This is a superior post. The first one that I�ve found that actually made me want to comment. Thanks for sharing what most keep for themselves. I just learned how to add sites to google reader and I�ll be sure to add your site as well.

  96. Talking about rite or wrong. Saudi Arabia it become scome of the universe .they forgot how and where they got the real help from .man in Beirut he was a partner of travel agency had help prince Abdul majeed prince bader bin Abdul Aziz all said .and king abdulah before he pass away they took plenty of money 1962 and never pay back the money that is truth and I am living evidence .walidjawish@yahoo

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