Seventeen girls suspended from Saudi school for uncovering their faces on school bus

Wednesday, October 15th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ At least 17 expatriate teenage girls in eastern Saudi Arabia have been suspended from school for a week for uncovering their faces on the school bus, the school's headmistress said in remarks published Wednesday.

The girls also had to sign an agreement not to repeat the act, said Malika Al-Duseiri, headmistress of the Eighth High School in Dammam, 250 miles northeast of the capital Riyadh.

``I noticed that they had removed their head covers on the school bus when I did a surprise call,'' Al-Duseiri told the daily Okaz. The girls' nationalities were not specified and attempts to reach the school were unsuccessful.

Okaz quoted family members as saying that 20 girls had been suspended since Tuesday but the headmistress referred only to 17.

The families are planning to complain to authorities against the school's decision, the paper said.

All women in Saudi Arabia, including foreigners, must be covered from head to toe in public, in compliance with the country's strict interpretation of Islam. The kingdom only issued picture identity cards to women last year after a three-year debate.

The new photo ID shows the woman's face but her hair must be covered. Previously, women were registered on their fathers' or husbands' papers.

Mobile phones with built-in cameras are banned in the kingdom as they may be used to take pictures of uncovered women.

Growing demands for political and social reform _ especially for women's rights _ have been countered by the conservative religious establishment.

Last month, prominent clerics and academics issued a statement warning against calls for equality and increased rights for women, saying such efforts aim to make Muslim women more like ``infidel'' Western women.