Saudi Labor Minister Adel Fakeih seen here speaking during the annual Ministry of Labor event held at King Fahad Cultural Center in Riyadh on Thursday night. Fakeih has come under heavy criticism for his enforcement of Saudization policies aiming to provide young Saudis with more jobs in the private sector, an effort to combat the high unemployment rate which reached 12 percent according to government statistics.
Clerics who oppose gender mixing at the workplace have given an ultimatum to Saudi Minister of Labor Adel Fakieh: he has one month to roll back on the policy allowing women to work in retail, or they will pray to God to give him cancer.
Local media reported that more than 200 clerics from around the Kingdom had come to Riyadh and held a meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Ministry with Fakieh to complain about gender mixing in retail stores, accusing him of challenging religious authorities in the country like the Council of Senior Ulema.
“Stop women employment or we will pray against you like we have done with the previous Labor Minister,” a cleric named Abdulrahman Aba-Nemai reportedly told Fakieh. The cleric was referring to the late Ghazi al-Gosaibi who passed away in August 2010 and had to face similar opposition from conservatives over women employment. A video uploaded to YouTube showed some attendees cheer with the sounds of takbeer as Aba-Nemai talked to Fakieh.
Defending the policy, Fakieh said women have worked in sales since the days of the Prophet and that there is nothing in Islam forbidding such work. “Women in our country have worked in sales before, and in some regions they still do,” he said. “But now, foreign men are selling lingerie to our women. No jealous man would accept this.” Fakieh also rejected the accusation that his ministry is pushing an agenda to “westernize” society through the employment of women and refused to discuss the motives behind his policy. “Only God knows about motives, and I won’t say more on this,” he told the clerics.
The Saudi government have worked to encourage more women to join the workforce as part of its plans to tackle the high unemployment rate which they officially put at 10.5. The Minister told local media last October that more than 80 percent of the 1.5 million unemployed Saudi nationals looking for work are women.
This is the second visit in two weeks by the clerics to the Ministry of Labor to protest women employment. When the clerics visited the Ministry last week Fakieh only met with them briefly because they showed up without appointment and promised to meet them again. Describing yesterday’s meeting, al-Hayat said Fakieh had to face a “heated verbal pelting” by the clerics. “We don’t want solutions for women employment,” they told him. “We just want it stopped.”
Fakieh was defiant and told the clerics they have the right to offer advice and if he, as a government officla, decided not not to take their advice then they are free to go the courts and sue the Ministry.
“Some of you have already gone to the courts to oppose the Ministry of Labor’s decision,” he said. “If the courts ruled against the decision, we will cancel it.”
More than one hundred Saudi clerics gathered at the Ministry of Labor to express their objection to the ministry’s policy aiming to provide more work opportunities for women, local news sites reported Saturday.
Users on social media sites circulated pictures and videos showing droves of the clerics, dressed in their red-and-white checkered shmagh and cloaks as they entered the building of the ministry in Riyadh and waited outside the minister’s office.
Sources told Sabq that the clerics were at first denied entry to the ministry headquarters by security, but were later allowed to enter and met briefly with the Minister Adel Fakeih. The site reported that the clerics complained about MOL’s decisions allowing gender mixing in workplaces. Fakeih has reportedly listened to them “for minutes” before excusing himself because, he said, the clerics have shown up without appointment.
With the unemployment rate officially above 10.5, the Saudi government is under high pressure to provide work opportunities for its youth, especially women. Fakieh said last October that there are 1.5 million Saudi nationals looking for work, 80 percent of them are women. 40 percent of those women have college degrees, he added.
But the government push for women employment have faced resistance from religious conservative who warn that the mixing of genders at the workplace would lead to social disintegration and the Westernization of Saudi Arabia. The clerics were recently bolstered by a statement from Abdul-Latif Al Alsheikh, head of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, who criticized MOL for what he described as the minister’s failure to maintain a “good clean environment” for women working at retail stores.
The government dismissed these charges.
“We want to open a whole new world for women, and at the same time will be in tune with our culture with how we’d like our families to continue to be,” Fakeih told the Washington Post. “We don’t want necessarily to copy a Western lifestyle.”