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A step forward: Saudi Women take up active roles in an All female Emergency Call Centre

This is a big shift for the conservative Saudi Arabia

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A Saudi woman works inside the first all-female call center in the kingdom's security sector, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia
A Saudi woman works inside the first all-female call center in the kingdom's security sector, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. VOA
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  • The seven Saudi women, almost all wearing the black niqab over their faces form the first women’s section of an emergency call center in Mecca
  • Saudi Arabia adheres to strict interpretations of Islamic law and tribal custom, requiring women to have male guardians and obey a modest dress code
  • Saudi women are present in multiple fields, so they can also be present in the security sector

Mecca, Saudi Arabia, September 1, 2017: Seven Saudi women sit in front of computer screens fielding distress calls from across Mecca ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage this week, in a first for Saudi Arabia as it tries to expand participation in the workforce.

The seven, almost all wearing the black niqab over their faces form the first women’s section of an emergency call center in the kingdom, which has begun offering more education and employment opportunities to the half of the population that has traditionally stayed at home.

The women verify a caller’s location and request, which could be related to fire, crime, illness or a traffic accident, before passing the information on to first responders.

In the conservative kingdom, that’s a big shift.

Saudi Arabia adheres to strict interpretations of Islamic law and tribal custom, requiring women to have male guardians and obey a modest dress code. They are barred from driving.

However, the Saudi government has begun introducing gradual reforms to open new job opportunities for Saudi women as part of a vision to wean the country off oil — on which it relies for more than 60 percent of its income — and transform society.

“Saudi women are present in multiple fields, so they can also be present in the security sector,” 31-year-old Baara al-Shuwaibi, who studied English at a Mecca University, told Reuters, headphones hanging over her ears.

The women all speak English and received training before starting their jobs in recent weeks. Dozens of men sit in a separate room doing the same work.

“I receive a call, check the location and send the request to the proper authority as fast as possible, especially if it’s an emergency like fire or ambulance,” Shuwaibi said.

‘Step forward’

The National Operations Center in Mecca launched two years ago, becoming the first in the kingdom to unify government response services. There are plans for similar sites in Riyadh, Medina, and the Eastern Province.

This is the first year the women’s section will operate during the hajj, which is expected to attract about two million Muslims from around the world for a week of sacred rituals starting Wednesday.

The world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims has in the past seen numerous deadly stampedes, fires, and riots, and the authorities have been preparing for months to handle any violence, disease or a crash like the one that killed hundreds in 2015.

Major General Abdel Rahman al-Saleh, who runs the operations center, said it receives around 65,000 calls each day during Hajj, 50 percent more than normal.

“We consider the women’s section a step forward to demonstrate that women can work in any place and in any field,” Saleh said.

There are plans to increase the number of women and offer them advanced training, he said.

Hassa al-Badi, who manages the women’s section and has a master’s degree from an American university, said female callers sometimes ask to speak to another woman due to the sensitivity of their request.

“Women are now present in the security sector and, God willing, they will continue to advance,” she said. (VOA)

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Despite Pleas From Senate, U.S. President Donald Trump Stands By Saudi Prince

Trump said he could abide by legislation ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen

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Donald Trump, Prince
U.S. President Donald Trump sits for an exclusive interview with Reuters journalists in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.

“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.

Saudi Arabia Prince
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the second day of the Future Investment Initiative conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. VOA

Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.

“I just haven’t heard that,” Trump said. “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

While Trump has condemned the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was often critical of MbS, he has given the benefit of the doubt to the prince with whom he has cultivated a deep relationship.

Trump again reiterated on Tuesday that the “crown prince vehemently denies” involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.

Khashoggi, Prince
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. VOA

Trump has come under fierce criticism from fellow Republicans in the Senate over the issue, particularly after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them. Last month, the CIA assessed that MbS ordered the killing, which Trump called “very premature.”

“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MbS,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said last week.

Meeting with Senators

Graham and other senators who have supported the U.S.-Saudi alliance over the years have said that Trump should impose more sanctions after a first round targeted 17 Saudis for their alleged role in the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

USA, Prince
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters after a closed-door security briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and involvement of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, at the Capitol in Washington. VOA

As the Senate considers this week a joint resolution condemning the crown prince for the killing, something that the president would have to sign or veto if passed by Congress, Trump said he would meet with senators.

Trump said he hoped senators would not propose stopping arms sales to the Saudis, deals he has doggedly fought to save ever since the gruesome details of Khashoggi’s murder were leaked by Turkey.

“And I really hope that people aren’t going to suggest that we should not take hundreds of billions of dollars that they’re going to siphon off to Russia and to China,” Trump said.

Also Read: The Khashoggi Killing Creates Differences Between Trump And U.S. Lawmakers

Trump said he could abide by legislation ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen, a proxy war with regional rival Iran that has led to a deepening humanitarian disaster.

“Well, I’m much more open to Yemen because frankly, I hate to see what’s going on in Yemen,” Trump said. “But it takes two to tango. I’d want to see Iran pull out of Yemen too. Because – and I think they will.” (VOA)