When You're Rocking the Wrong Abaya: Saudi TV Reporter to be Investigated

Published June 28th, 2018 - 10:35 GMT
Shireen al-Rifaie, news reporter for UAE-based AlAan TV in the controversial video while in Saudi Arabia reporting women driving.
Shireen al-Rifaie, news reporter for UAE-based AlAan TV in the controversial video while in Saudi Arabia reporting women driving. (Screenshot/Twitter)

While Saudi Arabia has been seen making reforms following lifting the three-decade ban on women driving, it still needs some time until all deep-rooted cultural traditions regarding women rights and freedoms are fixed.

On Monday, a Saudi TV anchor was ordered to be referred to an investigation over her “immodest” clothes. She was reporting on the lifting of the ban on women driving in her country.

While her name was not officially recognized by the General Commission for Audiovisual Media, Abu Dhabi-based Erem News website recognized her as the Saudi anchor Shireen al-Rifaie, who works for the Emirati AlAan TV.

The General Commission for Audiovisual Media released a statement on their official Twitter account on Tuesday announcing that the anchor, who’s name wasn’t recognized, will be referred to the investigation authorities. 

Translation: “The General Commission for Audiovisual Media refered a television anchor to the investigation over a video was widely-shared on social media, during which she is reporting Saudi women's driving, wearing immodest clothes, in contravention of regulations and instructions.”

Rifaie’s case raised controversy among the Saudi conservative society where women are required to wear an abaya by law, with some claiming rumors that she was arrested.

Translation: “The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has referred Shirin al-Rifai to the investigation, according to Okaz Newspaper, after a video was circulating on social media, in which she is reporting Saudi women driving, wearing indecent clothes. The broadcaster violated the regulations and instructions, the agency said.”

After the rumors ciculated, the anchor posted a photo on her Snapchat for her flight ticket with a caption: “Goodbye” indicating she had left the Kingdom, according to Saudi news website, Ajel.

The topic captured Saudi social media users who went to know whether what she did was wrong or not. Several people condemned the attack launched on the reporter saying that she did not violate anything by wearing her abaya, and it is not of anyone’s business to judge her or arrest her for what she wears.

Translation: “Leave people to who created them [An Arabic saying]. Everyone is responsible of his behaviour. Thank God for your life and the blessings you have”.

Translation: “Good luck in your job, we wish you be a good example for Saudi women.”


Despite all the change that was triggered by Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), other long-awaited reforms have yet to arrive. Women and human rights activists considered it is just the first step of many so Saudi Arabia will be on the right track for modernization.

One of the reforms needed is the freedom of dress, especially for women, as Saudi women are obliged to wear a head cover or a black abaya as authorities claim this is part of applying the Islamic Sharia law. However, several imams and Saudi preachers allow women to wear whatever they want, as long as decency standards are maintained.

The latest calls regarding the matter of women clothing were made by the Crown Prince when he said that women don’t need to wear a head cover or the black abaya, however their attire should be “decent and respectful”.

On the other hand, many Saudis attacked Rifaie accusing her of violating the religious manners, traditions and morals of the Saudi society.

Translation: “We are still waiting for the investigation results with this corrupt and everyone allowed her to enter the country or leave it.”

Some people blamed the TV that allowed her to go on air like this, overlooking the fact that she works for an Emirati TV.

Translation: “How did you let her record such a video? The channel must be punished first.”

Meanwhile, Rifaie replied to people who attacked her on Twitter and vowed to sue them over insulting her on social media asking one of her followers to take screenshots for all tweets that insulted her.

Translation: “I wish you take screenshots for all tweets, and I will actually start suing all abusers. Everyone knows that I am right and I did not violate the law.”

This online argument started on social media few days after Saudi women were officially hitting the road to end the long-standing ban on their driving in Saudi Arabia on the historic day of June 24, 2018. After Saudi Arabia had been the only country in the world where women were not allowed to drive until September 2017.

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