Merely being allowed out in public is a feat for a woman in Saudi Arabia: permission from a husband, father or brother must be obtained, one of these must then be willing to drive her to wherever her errand takes her, and the constant worry of an encounter with the Mutaween for any minor transgression she might make is never far. Which is why appearing on TV in front of millions throughout the Middle East is something of a coup for Saudi housewife Hissa Hilal, who has made it to the finals of a major Arabic reality show. The competition involves the reciting of an ancient type of Bedouin poetry to advance through stages before a winner is declared. The conservative Muslim equivalent of American Idol or the X Factor. Not only did she come third in the competition but she did so after facing the criticism of Saudi’s religious establishment. She remained steadfast and recited poetry that criticised the religious extremism Saudi Arabia is known for, earning her a few death threats and reams of criticism and anger both on the internet and in real life. Ironically, the other main critique she faced was from others who felt she should have removed her niqab before appearing on television. Can’t please anyone these days.
Despite all this, Hissa is supported by her husband and family and has won over many millions who watch the show throughout the Gulf, getting them to listen to her message without even showing her face. And that’s progress we think deserves a little recognition.