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16 March, 2005

Open desert, closed city part I

Bedouin women have traditionally enjoyed fewer restrictions and less segregation than women living in towns and villages, and it is interesting to speculate whether Sheikh Zayed's extremely progressive views on women stemmed in part from his many years of living and working among the bedu around Al Ain.

In his book Shaikhdoms of Eastern Arabia, Peter Lienhardt notes the desert/city split:

"On the social side, we invariably find that settlement is accompanied with the progressive separation of women, in sharp contrast to the free and usually unveiled condition of women of the bedouin. Bedouin tents are open, giving little privacy to their occupants, but privacy is not necessary when the tents themselves are cut off from strangers by areas of desert. In the towns, the houses are built to be as private as possible [...] the women are expected to stay in the house as much as possible. They are expected to avoid almost entirely any social contact with men outisde the members of the family. The life of the women in the towns and villages is more secluded than that of the women of the desert, whereas the life of the men is more gregarious."

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