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06JEDDAH341 2006-05-08 05:02:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Jeddah
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1. (C) SUMMARY: Two recent setbacks to the empowerment of
women demonstrate that while this policy has received
official support from the highest levels of the Saudi
government, such changes face significant opposition within
society at large. Last week, the Pan-Arab daily "Asharq Al
Awsat" reported that two women candidates for the Medina
Chamber of Commerce withdrew their nominations in the face of
intense social pressure. A day later, a prominent Saudi
female banker, scheduled to participant in a prestigious
State Department program for business leaders, was forced to
cancel her attendance when her company rescinded her leave
request apparently due to fears of negative publicity. These
events illustrate the precarious nature of social change in a
country where reform is often from the top down and are
indicative of the obstacles encountered by those who
challenge the established orthodoxy. END SUMMARY


2. (C) The Pan-Arab daily "Asharq Al Awsat" reported on
April 27 that the two women candidates for the Medina Chamber
of Commerce withdrew their names from consideration following
intense social pressure to do so. A second Saudi newspaper
from the country's Western region, "Al Watan," quoted
candidate Nohad Sunbol as saying that though she had received
little support during her campaign, her withdrawal garnered
numerous letters of appreciation. The other candidate, Wafa
Tolba, remarked in Jeddah's "Okaz" newspaper that her choice
to drop out of the election was due to a general "immaturity"
among the voting members of the Chamber.

3. (C) Both women indicated that they had received anonymous
threats and were discouraged by their families from pursuing
their candidacies. This is in marked contrast to the
much-publicized elections held at the Jeddah Chamber of
Commerce in November, when two women, Lama Al Suleiman and
Nashwa Taher, won seats (see reftels). Contacts predicted
that the Medina women had been so intimidated by the backlash
against their candidacies that they would be unlikely to
discuss the matter with Consulate officers.


4. (C) A similar blow to women's empowerment occurred on
April 28 when prominent Jeddah banker and SAMBA employee Soha
Abdoul Farag, who had been selected by the Department to
participate in the prestigious FORTUNE/State Department
International Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership, was forced
to cancel her attendance after her employer rescinded her
previously-approved leave request. Farag was scheduled to
attend a series of high-profile seminars in Washington with
women leaders from academia and the USG, including the
Secretary and U/S Hughes, and to participate in an intensive

mentorship program at the Los Angeles law firm of Latham &
Watkins. Farag's selection for the program had been
widely-lauded in the Pan-Arab and Saudi press, with coverage
in "Al Hayat," "The Saudi Gazette," "Arab News" and "Asharq
Al Awsat" throughout the week of April 24.

5. (C) Consulate General contacts indicated that after
initially approving Farag's participation, SAMBA management
decided that any public link between the bank and Farag would
be negative for the company which has lost deposits in the
past due to its previous connection with Citigroup. (NOTE:
SAMBA has never been mentioned in any press coverage of
Farag's selection to date).

6. (C) In a May 2 meeting with the CG, Farag stated that
though she suspects the decision to prevent her attendance
resulted from the fear of publicity, no one in SAMBA's
leadership will confirm this. When she initially received
the bank's approval to attend, perhaps clairvoyantly, Farag
had been quoted in "Al Hayat" on April 30 as saying that
"although women have been provided with official support,
women still lack the social support."

JEDDAH 00000341 002 OF 002

7. (C) On May 3, Farag contacted the Consulate to say that
SAMBA had revised its stance and would allow her to
participate in the mentorship program at Latham & Watkins in
the fall, though she would still be unable to interact with
Washington policy makers and the other foreign participants
in the FORTUNE partnership. Due to prior commitments,
however, Latham & Watkins will be unable to host her at that
time, so her participation has in effect been canceled.