Thursday, June 9, 2011

Saudi Activists Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Layouni Detained for Attempting to Help Canadian Nathalie Morin Flee Saudi Arabia with her 3 Children

Wajeha Al Huwaider and Fawzia Layouni were detained by Dammam police on the evening of Monday June 6, 2011 and are still being held in a police station south of Dammam on charges of attempted smuggling and kidnapping. Initial reports that the 2 had been released on Tuesday after renunciation and promises not to repeat the act have been contradicted. It had been reported that the 2 were released without bail after the intervention of His Highness Prince Mohammed bin Fahd of the Eastern Province and taking an oath to allow the Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Embassy follow through on accusations that Ms Morin was being confined and mistreated by her husband, Said Al-Shahrani. *Update: Statement by Al-Hawaider and Layouni that they were released on July 7, 2011 at 1:00am--تصريح إعلامي من المهتمات بحقوق الإنسان : وجيهة الحويدر و فوزية العيوني

Wajeha Al-Huwaider; photo for Fawzia Layouni not found

The 2 Saudi activists for women's rights were trying to help Canadian-Quebecker Nathalie Morin escape Saudi with her 3 Saudi children. Morin's husband, Said Al-Shahrani, became suspicious of a possible escape attempt by his wife when he noticed certain activity on her mobile phone. His suspicions were exacerbated when he saw a text message from one of the 2 activists. He notified police who tracked the 2 and his wife and children, then moved to the arrests as soon as the attempt to leave the country by car was underway.

The women and children were in the car and the luggage was being loaded in front of the family home when the police stepped in, accompanied by the husband. The police claim Al-Huwaider and Layouni initially protested their arrest, but the police already had an order prepared by Eastern Province authorities. Security services claim that during questioning Al-Huwaider attempted to use her cell phone to let Westerners and the local human rights group know of their arrest but was prevented from doing so and her phone confiscated. When contacted by security, the Dammam Branch of the Human Rights Commission denied that Al-Huwaider was a member. Morin is also charged--with attempted kidnapping of her children.

Al-Huwaider and Layouni became involved in the Morin case after Morin's mother, Johanne Durocher, contacted Huwaider by email last year. Johanne Durocher has been very active in trying to get her daughter out of Saudi Arabia, involving the Quebec and Canadian governments, and organizing protests in Montreal and Ottawa. She has been very disappointed in the Canadian government's response.

Mme Durocher has given a different accounting of the arrests to a Quebec news outlet. According to her, Said Al-Shahrani (aka Al-Bishi), a former police officer, set a trap for Nathalie with his police friends. He told his wife that he would be attending a cousin's wedding, a 13 hour drive from their home. As usual, he left her and the 3 children without a phone, money, or a key to go out of the house. Mme Durocher asked Wajeha Al-Huwaider, who lives in the same city, to bring money to Nathalie so she could buy food. Al-Huwaider did go to Nathalie's home as requested. When Nathalie opened the door, using a key that her mother had been able to give her surreptitiously during a visit to Saudi, the women were surprised by the husband and police waiting for their moment. Morin was arrested, questioned, and appeared in court where she was charged with kidnapping. If she is found guilty, it is possible that she will be deported because of the kidnapping attempt--without her children.

I did considerable research on the Nathalie Morin case in the fall of 2009 when it was given a lot of attention by both the Canadian and Saudi presses.

Said Al-Shahrani, Nathalie Morin's husband, with their sons Abdullah and Samir, 2009

From that research I learned that Nathalie Morin (b. 1984) had met Said Al-Shahrani (aka Al-Bishi) in September 2001 when he was a Concordia University student in Montreal, Quebec. They married (Nathalie's mother denies this), and had a son, Samir, in July 2002. Al-Bishi was refused a visa to stay longer in Canada, and left with a deportation order (possibly for spying) pending in September 2002. Over 2003-4 the couple stayed in contact, and Al-Shahrani wanted Nathalie to join him in Saudi Arabia. In March 2005, Nathalie Morin joined him in Saudi Arabia with their son. Since that time she has had 2 more children, Abdullah (June 2006) and Sarah (November 2008).  She did leave to spend one month in Quebec in October-November 2006 at her mother's expense, but returned to be with her sons then aged 4 years (Samir), and 5 months (Abdullah).

Her mother insists that she is being abused, beaten, starved, and held hostage in the home without phone, money, or a key to leave. Her mother insists that Nathalie wants to leave Saudi Arabia with her children, but that her husband either refuses outright or demands money and a Canadian visa. Said Al-Shahrani denies all these accustions.

13-year-old Rami, one of Said's cousins holds up a message for Nathalie Morin's mother. In the February 25, 2009 article, the paternal family states that Mme Durocher should learn to be a proper grandmother according to Saudi norms. A French translation of the article, provided by the Canadian government is here.

Nathalie's statements about her situation vary depending on whether her husband is present or not. She is consistent that she wants to be with her children. Nathalie's mother insists she was a naive young woman who regrets her decisions and wants to return to Quebec with her children. She states that Nathalie never really married her husband, and was under the Canadian legal age for consent when she conceived her first child, but has a marriage permission certificate since Said's father works for the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. Some of Nathalie's statements support her regret of naively made decisions.

In the fall of 2009, I concluded:
It is difficult to sort family difficulties in the most favourable of circumstances—for example, in a private and confidential family therapy setting with all participants present-- and far more so with only the media to rely on, and international political and religious overlays to the story. There are obvious confounds: the tension between a husband and wife and the complications of children; the tension between mother-in-law and son-in-law; the relationship between mother and young daughter; Quebec-Canada-Saudi Arabia as national political and religious entities; the rules of international diplomacy about private nationals’ matters vs national laws; and, the challenge of obtaining reliable information about abuse when the abuser is present, or when the story of abuse serves an alternate agenda like invoking government and NGO intervention.

During the period of the Quiet Revolution to the “not so Quiet” Revolution—the 1950’s to the 1970’s—Quebec moved from being a very traditional Jansenist Catholic society, to a highly secular one with very strong women’s rights, to the extent of precluding a woman from taking her husband’s name on marriage, Landmark abortion cases in Quebec courts de-criminalized abortion in Canada, and gave the woman the sole decision making capacity about it. Part of this revolutionary evolution was made in opposition to the Church, and part in opposition to the English presence in Quebec, and the English dominance in the whole of Canada and its federal government.

These tensions flare periodically in referenda on separation (the last one in 1995 narrowly defeated by <1%, largely due to the English and corporate presence in Montreal). They are now playing out in both the media coverage of the Nathalie Morin case in Quebec and in Canada, and in the political activism around the case. Mme Durocher has elicited the support of 3 Quebec opposition party Members of Canadian Parliament (MPs) from 3 different political parties—the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberal Party of Canada (LP) --with the New Democrat MP Thomas Mulcair, and the separatist Bloc Québécois MP Francine Lalonde being the most vocal.
Mme Durocher has accused the Canadian government of giving priority to the Kohail brothers who are threatened with execution for their part in a fight amongst adolescents at a private school in Saudi; to the women of Afghanistan (Canada has active combat troops there since the start of the war in 2003); and to starving children in Africa, over her grandchildren being starved, beaten, and deliberately burned by their father in Saudi.
In fact, the Canadian government, and particularly the current one, hasn’t been of much help to Canadians in difficult situations overseas; and, the current Foreign Minister is being personally sued by Abousfian Abdelrazik for $3million, along with another $24million for the government itself, which participated actively in false accusations, torture, and refusing to allow him back on Canadian soil as part of a coverup. William Sampson (a dual British-Canadian citizen), Maher Arar (Syrian-Canadian) , Omar Khadr (Canadian Guantanamo detainee), and Suaad Hagi Mohamud (Somali-Canadian) are others who have found the government and its embassies unhelpful (to say the least).
Still, it seems to me that Nathalie is a lot more married than her mother would like to believe, and at least initially pursued this man. The Canadian government won’t give him a visa to immigrate to Canada (he was under threat of deportation when he first left Canada); and, her daughter is subject to Saudi law, as even a tourist in Saudi would be—a fact of which the Canadian government reminds departing Canadians at all airports, with a pamphlet explaining that when you are in any country you are subject to its laws, and the Embassy can do little against that.
None of this argues against finding a better solution for this family, and using mediators to do so. At some point, something must give, and hopefully the solution will be the best for all concerned, but especially anyone who is being victimized in any way.
Nathalie Morin and children, bruising

This may be the point at which something gives--at least for Nathalie Morin, who may find herself in Quebec without her children. After being a poster example for the reform of guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia, she may be on an even more losing end of Saudi law.

Other women, hopefully married to more normal Saudis than Said Al-Shahrani has been accused of being, should remember that Saudi law gives the husband rights over their movements, and those of the children. They should expect that they may be allowed to divorce, and may be allowed to leave the country, but that the children are considered Saudi and will remain with the father or paternal family in Saudi. This is true even where the woman's country of origin has an agreement with the Saudi government to allow the woman to leave, as is the case for Americans.

For the 2 Saudi activists, and particularly Al-Huwaider, also a strong voice for Saudi women's legal right to drive, this may be an (unfortunate) opportunity for their opponents.

Your comments, thoughts and impressions?

*Thank you to Eman Al-Nafjan of Saudiwoman's Weblog who has been tweeting about these arrests which brought it to my attention. 

Articles on the arrests:
إحالة تهريب «نتالي» الكندية لإمارة الشرقية
تورط ناشطتين حقوقيتين في خطف وتهريب كندية وأطفالها
Canoe – Infos – Faits divers: Une Québécoise prisonnière de l'Arabie Saoudite?
Nathalie Morin, ambushed by her partner with the complicity of Saudi police
Activists held over Canadian woman’s flight bid released
تصريح إعلامي من المهتمات بحقوق الإنسان : وجيهة الحويدر و فوزية العيوني Statement by Al-Hawaidar and Layouni on arrest and release. They state they were giving humanitarian aid only.

Background on the Nathalie Morin case:
Comité de soutien à Nathalie Morin, Samir, Abdullah et Sarah English language timeline here.
Que. woman seeks PM's help for daughter's safe return from Saudi Arabia
Canada Will Not Repatriate Woman in Saudi Arabia
Pas de rapatriement en vue
Husband demands $300,000 to ‘free’ Canadian wife, kids
‘I won’t take money for my children’
لست رهينة بالسعودية.. بل بقائي نابع من رغبتي للعيش مع زوجي وأبنائي
Concert held in Montreal to support Nathalie Morin
Nathalie Morin call transcript: 'I want to come back to Canada'
Images et témoignage de Nathalie Morin en Arabie Saoudite from Soutien Nathaliemorin on Vimeo. A video in French composed of images taken during the visit to Nathalie Morin's home in Saudi Arabia by her mother Johanne Durocher and her brother Dominique Morin

Newer blog site for Nathalie Morin, in French and English
Most recent entry in "Nathalie's Day Life": Monday, November 8th
Last night Saeed woke Nathalie at 3:00 am. He told her to go wash her face because they would be leaving. Nathalie went to the bathroom.
When she came out, he old her that they would be leaving in 20 minutes and to go sit in the living room for now. She sat on the couch.
There was a movie on TV: A true story. She listened to the film. The story took place in Iran. A muslim husband wanted to rid himself of his wife. So he decided to acuse her of adultery and made up a whole scenario. At the end of the movie the whole village believes the man and the woman is publicly stoned to death and dies.
When the film is over, Saeed tells Nathalie that they are not going anywhere and that she should return to bed. It was 5:00 am. Without speaking a word, Nathalie went back to bed.

Samir, Abdullah, and Sarah


Royal Nerd said...

Hey Chez Chiara. I work for Tell Me More, a show on NPR, and we are looking to cover the Saudi women driving story. I am trying to get in contact with Wajeha Al-Huwaider as we wanted to have her on the show. I have emailed her, to which she hasn’t responded, and I wanted to know if you could help me contact her by phone.

Would you have that information?

Chiara said...

Royal Nerd-thanks for your comment. I don't have that information and I wouldn't give it out without her permission. As per later posts, I hope she and all potential women drivers stay safe, and that in this instance, Nathalie Morin, Waheja, and Fatima are not overly punished for whatever they were doing. Thanks again for your comment.


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