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poniedziałek, 4 kwietnia 2011

First ladies of the Gulf take prominent place

First ladies of the Gulf take prominent place

The first lady of Qatar walked up to the podium in a luxury hotel banquet room and sized up the crowd of mostly wealthy businessmen. "Do not be afraid to take risks and to try", she told them. "Think out of the box."
Sheikamozahqatar Sheika Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned may have been wearing a traditional black head scarf and robe, but she took on a very untraditional role in rallying the men to support a US$ 100 million initiative to tackle unemployment.
Like her counterpart in Dubai, Oxford-educated Princess Haya, Mozah is taking up the Western first lady model _ activist, globe-trotting and involved in public affairs.
It's a major change in a region where a ruler's wife is rarely seen and even her name is little known. She might be one of several many emirs and kings in the Gulf have multiple wives _ up to the four permitted by Islam, though sometimes the actual number is not well known. In some cases, the ruler will pick one to be the public first lady.
The emergence of high-ranking wives on the public stage is part of the booming Gulf states' efforts to appear more in synch with the West as they seek investment, political clout and even big-name sporting events like the Olympics.
Raniaramadan3 It's also clearly a competition with other high-profile Middle East women, such as Jordan's Queen Rania. In recent years, Qatar _ like the other small Arab countries lining the Arabian (Persian) Gulf _ has transformed its desert landscape into a financial and media hub. High-rises and construction cranes now swarm the once-barren skyline of Doha, home to Al-Jazeera, the groundbreaking Arabic-language satellite TV station.
Mozah, who is believed to be in her 40s, has taken a starring role in the transformation. She is one of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani's wives and the only one who makes public appearances. Her most prominent role is as chairwoman of the Qatar Foundation, which launched Education City, a 2,500-acre (1,012-hectare) campus outside Doha.
Emirqararliban Mozah is increasingly mirroring Queen Rania's globe-trotting, giving speeches at institutions in the U.S. and Europe. Last year, she claimed one of the spots on Forbes magazine's list of the world's 100 most powerful women. At home, she wears traditional long robes. In the West she wears stylish business suits.
"No Gulf royalty stands out as Mozah does", said Rima Sabban, a Dubai-based sociologist. "She broke all cultural barriers and shaped an image of a woman that is fully modern, fully confident and fearless of a backlash from the society... Mozah's strategy is part of her husband's goal to put Qatar on the world map."
In the even glitzier city of Dubai, Princess Haya is also breaking the rules _ giving speeches on public welfare, working on public projects, and traveling the world. Dubai gained significant political influence in the region through the 2004 marriage of its powerful ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, with the 34-year-old Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan.
Hayaelizabeth They have one daughter, though the Dubai ruler has 18 other children, most with Sheika Hind bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, the first of his wives to become publicly known. Like Mozah, Haya has taken on public roles, including chairing the Dubai International Humanitarian City, a cluster of Western and Islamic charities.
But Haya pushes the traditional boundaries even further. She is rarely seen wearing a head scarf and is a sports enthusiast, a rarity in the male-dominated region. She represented Jordan in equestrian show jumping in the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia, is president of the International Equestrian Federation and even has a truck-driving license, obtained in Jordan to help transport her horses.
Sheikhasabikabahrain Other wives of Gulf rulers are active in campaigning for women's rights, charity and humanitarian issues, particularly in Bahrain (Sheikha Sabika is pictured) and Kuwait, but they have not sought foreign attention or assumed highly public roles. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates both have women Cabinet ministers, and the Emirates recently appointed its first female judge.
Not every country in the region is eager to change. Saudi Arabia, a bastion of conservatism, still keeps its royal wives under wraps and remains the only country in the Middle East to bar women from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years. No women sit in the kingdom's Cabinet, and women can't drive or travel without permission from a male guardian.
Abdullahsa A prominent Saudi princess, Lolwah Al-Faisal, made headlines two years ago at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland when she spoke out against the driving ban. Another princess, Adelah, gave a rare interview to an Arab women's magazine in 2006, and on occasion speaks at events.
Mozah "has challenged tradition that wanted women to be restricted to the domestic field", a 20-year old Qatari student said. She added that Mozah has made it possible for women to have "a role in the society while also being a wife and a mother". © GPD AP.
Pictured are Sheikha Mozah (Qatar), Queen Rania (Jordan), Emir Hamad (Qatar), Princess Haya and Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum (Dubai), Sheikha Sabika (Bahrain), King Abdallah (Saudi Arabia).
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