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August 4th, 2009
11:22 AM ET

Does kissing and telling mean a death sentence?

Editor's Note: On Wednesday, a Saudi court  sentenced Mazen Abdul Jawad to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes for bragging about his his sex life on television, according to Ministry of Information officials. Read Octavia Nasr's blog about the incident – and the uproar it caused – below.

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

This is one for the Middle East’s record books; a story that falls under the ‘unbelievable but true’ category.

In August, a 32-year-old Saudi man appeared on an Arabic satellite channel and discussed – without reservation and in great detail – his sexual likes and dislikes, his favorite sex toys and how he lost his virginity to a neighbor at the age of 14. Mazen Abdul Jawad described how he picked up women in the ultra-conservative Muslim Kingdom, brought them to his bedroom and had sex with them.

But in a region where sex is considered taboo, Jawad’s public admission of his sexual exploits outraged religious conservatives in the Muslim state. He was arrested more than a week ago and now faces charges under the strict Islamic sharia law code.

As soon as the Jawad appeared on A Thick Red Line, a popular social taboos show on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), people all over the Middle East were quick to condemn his comments and the station that gave him a platform to commit the “sin” of “bragging about his wrongdoing.” The LBC has refrained from commenting on the situation.

The story, not surprisingly, made headlines around the region. Jawad subsequently denied it, claiming the station had fabricated the story and taken his words out of context. Saudi authorities then arrested Jawad and launched a full-fledged investigation into his real crime and tried to determine how to manage the major image crisis he had created for the kingdom.

While most people were simply shocked by his stories, others used the opportunity to discuss the antiquated societal norms of the Middle East that don’t respect people’s sexual freedoms. Others called for Jawad’s severe punishment. Suggestions ranged from flogging him on live television, to stoning him in a public place, to cutting off his sexual organs and hanging him to teach the masses and send a clear message that this type of behavior would not be tolerated in Saudi Arabia, home of Islam’s holiest shrines.

Although Jawad’s fate has become the topic of the hour in many circles around the region, what really is the basis for the investigation? What crime did he commit? Is it his sexual exploits or the fact that he bragged about them? Judging by commentaries and religious explanations, it seems that the punishable-by-death act was the bragging.

Muslim clerics and scholars quote from the Hadith – a collection of stories and tales that Prophet Mohammed’s Companions told about his time on earth to which clerics usually refer in order to come up with rulings or edicts also known as “Fatwa” – that it is a sin to brag about a wrongdoing or an offense if Allah has already covered for you by not allowing others to find out about it. It’s a complicated story and millions of Arabs - especially in Saudi Arabia – find themselves grappling with its meaning.

The show that aired Jawad’s story is as popular as it is controversial in the Middle East region. It tackles taboos sometimes never discussed in public. In most cases, the show’s guests appear wearing oversized dark shades or wigs and strange clothing to disguise their identities as their lives can be endangered for talking about such taboo subjects. Previous topics on the show have included homosexuality, polygamy, spousal abuse, deviant sexual behaviors, forced marriages and honor killings.

The host is a popular young man who talks to his guests as if he’s known them forever. Think a Middle Eastern version of Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer: he has the ability to get guests to reveal shocking things about themselves and admit to their most hideous behaviors. In one instance, a guest admitted he put up his children for sale and tried to justify why he continued to look for the highest bidder even though his kids were begging him to change his mind and promised to go to work or beg in order to help him with expenses.

Jawad did not use a disguise when he discussed his sex life on the show. And in a society in which sex is never discussed, that fact alone could have been the most shocking piece of this bizarre story. Jawad invited the crew to his red-themed strangely decorated bedroom where Mickey Mouse meets stuffed bears in sexually suggestive positions. The cameras gave audiences a glimpse of the room’s nightclub-like chandeliers mixed with seafood-shaped wall sconces, perfume bottles, sex toys, condoms and a book in Arabic that Jawad calls his “reference” entitled ‘101 Questions About Sex.’

On the show, Jawad, wearing a red shirt, explained that he put his number and car details (a red Mini Cooper) on his mobile's bluetooth. He said that women usually call him to ask if the car is for sale. He went on to boast, “some go out with me that same night, others take longer and in all honesty some don’t work out.” At the end of the report Jawad walked away saying, “Time to check out my luck,” – in reference to whether or not he’d be able to pick up a woman that day.

Right now, the fate of Mazen Abdul Jawad hangs in the balance. Will he get the death penalty for bragging about his sexual life? Will he be held responsible for the acts he allegedly committed?

In Saudi Arabia, terrorists such as captured al Qaeda members - whose intentions are to kill and maim in the name of religion – are given the opportunity to repent and to be set free after undergoing special rehabilitation. With such an extreme “merciful” side, it sounds strange that a man caught bragging about his alleged sexual exploits could be sentenced to death by hanging.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. James Kporo

    It is hard to say if I am shocked or not ! If the people who intend to maim or kill in the name of religion can be offered 'rehabilitation' , then why not this person??? He has only claimed to have done these things, is there any proof that he has done these things?

    I suppose the word "hypocrisy" cannot be used for the the lawmakers. Will taking Mazen's life show the society in a better light?? NO.

    Where you have to hide to tell a story, then this shows them as backward. It will not stop these things from happening, just drive it underground further......

    August 4, 2009 at 7:57 pm |
  2. fuzzy

    I live in Saudi Arabia and I feel that the Saudi image is distorted a lot by the media. People tend to think that women here are regularly oppressed, that Saudi’s a terrorist haven, and all types of other stereotypes. Yes Saudi is a deeply conservative country, but that’s actually really benefited it a lot. The west may not see it this way, but because Saudi Arabia is governed by the Islamic law, it has managed to avoid many of the problems the west faces today. Sexually transmitted diseases are very uncommon in Saudi. So is theft, rape, and murder. Another thing you should be aware of is that if the majority of the people living in the Saudi Kingdom don’t like the fact that they’re being governed by the Islamic law, then they would have done something a long time ago about it.

    August 4, 2009 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Eithne Treanor

    Octavia..
    This is the type of issue once discussed at the Arab Broadcast Forum. The power of TV .. to have to deal with taboo issues.. forcing the society to deal with them also .. and that may not be so comfortable.
    Suddenly everyone needs to be talking about this event.. needs to bring this out to the open..
    And it's a situation like this that has happened.. not one created by the chattering classes now.. but one they must be involved with.
    This is actually extremely important for the region .. for everyone.. it has created a dialogue.. whether they like it or not..
    and sadly .. maybe that's not the issue for Mazen right now..
    But some day .. someone will be thankful for him for being so open.. and I sincerely hope he's around to lead the debate. E

    August 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm |
  4. george

    not knowing the consequences in very sensitive matter on that part of absent minded region is an absolute crazy and stupidly conducted that way you're been telling on yourself the story on the mush needed warmed of eduction.
    yes, you need more than of the death.

    August 4, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  5. Bruno

    I'm just thinking... why didn't he use a disguise like the others who appeared on that show? Why did he show his face when he knew his life would be endangered? Now he's facing the consequences of his lack of inteligence by telling such things (that are taboos for the Muslim society) on TV. I don't think he should be condemned though.

    August 4, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
  6. Lebanese_Dana

    Now you see the idiotic mentalities we have to deal with in the region. Why isn't anyone talking about the crime that is being committed by the saudis against the Lebanese? Why isn't anyone mentioning how the saudis are now looking to shut down a lebanese TV station down? The guy was given the option of concealing his identity, and he CHOSE not to ... knowing damn well that we would go back to Saudi Arabia and face something from the government. Is that an acceptable law to enforce? Absolutely not, but he knew that people have been killed for less in his country. Why didn't he conceal his face?

    August 4, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
  7. NAK

    I am from that region and yes talking about sex this way is a taboo & not appropriate... even in national american tv you won't see such shows except for certain tv channels and in certain timings! we lack regulations in our media but we will work on it. LBC is a channel that is owned by Saudi Arabia and that what makes all of this even more ridiculous.

    We do have a culture and a religion that is conservative and embedded with respect. In my point of view they should also question the channel before arresting this silly guy!

    August 4, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  8. Brittany

    So, it has to be a man for it to make CNN? This is happening to women everyday.

    August 4, 2009 at 12:50 pm |
  9. Nate

    Whatever happened to the practice of exile? I mean I understand why countries like the former Soviet Union kept people from leaving but why don't they give people the choice of either staying and facing death or leaving and never returning. Guess that's another country to mark off of my travel list.

    August 4, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  10. Anna

    The guy is not "classy" but he certainly does not deserve to be in jail let alone the death penalty !!!
    If his intention was to open a debate, he won big time...

    August 4, 2009 at 11:30 am |