On pencils and panties

Developments in Saudi Arabia's retail world aren't affecting it's kill-the-Jew policies.

January 22, 2012 17:16
4 minute read.
A woman in a burka

burka 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Somebody's head could roll - literally. It was recently reported that Kravitz pencils, manufactured in Israel for the domestic market only, somehow appeared on the shelves of Abu Rialin, a Saudi retailer that sells its entire inventory at one price.

As befits a country that has a major preoccupation with hating Jews and Israel, Saudi authorities are quite upset that the Ministry of Commerce overlooked this major faux pas, especially considering the fact that the pencils were well-marked with a Hebrew logo.

The pencil affair was exposed by a Saudi reporter on the Saudi website Jazan. The reporter wanted to know how such a major scandal could have been missed by the Ministry of Commerce. It's reassuring to know even in Saudi Arabia, hard-hitting, fear-free investigative reporting is occasionally being carried.

So what is the deal exactly? Well, prior to the exposure of this scandal, a set of 12 Kravitz pencils and an eraser was sold for only 53 cents in Saudi Arabia while the same product in Israel fetches $1.30. It’s no wonder then, that major protests demanding social justice were held in Israel last summer.

As if the pencil debacle isn't enough big news coming out of the Kingdom, there is also a major development occurring in the women’s rights arena:  Apparently, Saudi men are no longer permitted to sell women's lingerie.

One might have thought that the ultra-conservative nature of Saudi society would have long ago dictated that women sell lingerie to women. But that was not the case. It seems that the need to keep women unemployed, non-driving, and totally dependent on men previously outweighed the embarrassment women felt buying lingerie from men in this conservative society. 

Now, however, the urgency of getting more women out in the job market, coupled with the demands of women who were embarrassed to purchase their lingerie from men (despite the fact that, courtesy of the burka, their identity remains under wraps), has forced the country to take dramatic action that will demand from men to yield the lingerie shop to female vendors.

One might wonder why a government feels the need to dictate who can and cannot sell a piece of underwear - but I guess that's part of what makes Saudi Arabia a dictatorship. It micro-manages minute and private aspects of people's lives with no apparent concern for the wishes of the people involved. Of course, it might not be all that complicated. It could just be that the king and his princes enjoy focusing on pertinent issues relating to women's undergarments.

And, of course, since women still cannot drive in Saudi Arabia and need a male handler to appear in public, it is far from clear that they will be able to successfully manage their new role as lingerie sales persons. And if they fail - what then? Androgynous robots?

Despite these scintillating developments in the Saudi retail world, there is no need to be concerned that the country’s attention will be diverted from Jew or gay-hating.

As Ynet recently reported, state-funded books in Saudi Arabia continue to teach kids that the "hour (of judgment) won't come until Muslims fight Jews and kill them."

Ali Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, D.C., is quoted as saying that the books, which are funded by the Saudi government, teach ninth graders that the elimination of the Jews is imperative. 

According to Ahmed, another book teaches 10th graders to cut off the hands and feet of thieves.  The books are said to "depict women as weak and irresponsible" and "call for homosexuals to be put to death."

Following all the attention given to Saudi education after the 9/11 attacks, the Kingdom supposedly committed to eliminating hate from its educational materials.

Apparently there is an exception for Jews and gays.

All of this should make one feel elated about the recent announcement that the US is selling Saudi Arabia 84 new F-15 fighter jets and upgrading 70 more jets as part of a $60 billion deal that will also supply the Saudis with helicopters, missiles, bombs, and delivery systems.

The deal was announced in Hawaii by administration officials and begs one to ask if perhaps they’ve been exposed to too much sun? 

The writer, a new oleh, was a governmental affairs consultant in Sacramento, California for 30 years. He consults on politics, governmental relations, advocacy, and communications strategy.

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