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Written by Ebtihal Mubarak, originally published on Arab News.
JEDDAH, 19 May 2008 — For 25 days supporters and friends of Saudi blogger Hadeel Alhodaif have waited anxiously, hoping that she would emerge from the coma she fell into unexpectedly. But on Friday these hopes died as the 25-year-old writer and social critic — known for fearlessly using her real name in her criticisms — passed away.
Alhodaif (pictured here in the center at a seminar in Muscat, Oman), who maintained Heaven’s Steps, often challenged other Saudi women to join her in stepping out of the shadows of anonymity and devote their writing to issues of social importance.
“I wish that Saudi women bloggers would step forward in their writing instead of simply writing their personal diaries,” she told Arab News in an interview last year. She said that blogging offered a unique opportunity in Saudi Arabia to create a “new free media” to face off against the entrenched establishment newspapers and television channels and give the public what they really wanted to know. In some cases she would appear in these media outlets, such as AlJazeera and Saudi Channel One.
Alhodaif was invited last year to Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University to discuss the role that Saudi blogs play in promoting the freedom of expression. Later that year she gave a lecture at the women’s section of the Riyadh Literary Club calling on women to start their own blogs to help influence public policy and opinion.
“I would like to educate Saudi women about the importance of blogging as an efficient medium that can greatly influence public opinion,” she said during her presentation.
When blogger Fouad Al-Farhan was detained late last year for openly defending a group of conservative academics that had been arrested for meeting and discussing the need for political reform, Alhodaif was the only Saudi woman who came out publicly calling for Al-Farhan’s immediate release. She started a “Free Fouad” website and created a forum on the social networking site Facebook to keep interested people up to date on the case.
“She was truly courageous speaking to the BBC Arabic eloquently and bravely about Al-Farhan’s detention when most Saudi bloggers wanted only to be quoted anonymously,” said a fellow blogger, who preferred to be quoted anonymously.
Al-Farhan was released last month after four months of detention without charges.
Alhodaif published a collection of short stories titled Their Shadows Don’t Follow Them.
Last year her play “Who Fears The Doors” was performed at the men’s section of King Saud University. In her blog Alhodaif mocked the fact that even as the playwright she was not allowed to attend the performance of her own work due to the university’s strict policy on the mingling of the sexes.
“I guess I have to beg the male audience to inform me how my play was produced,” she wrote in Arabic. “I hope that a day comes when I can attend a cultural function where the presence of women does not cause anyone an allergic reaction!”
Alhodaif’s Facebook profile shows a young woman who was interested in reading, writing and good food. Saudis from all ages and backgrounds — liberals and conservatives alike, those who knew her closely or from a distance, and even those who did not know her at all before — are mourning the bright skinny girl with high dreams and hopes of a better future for all Saudis.
Editor’s Note: Why is important to note that she’s skinny?
May Allah give her peace.