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Saudi tweeter gets cyber-pummeling over sexual harassment mistranslation

By Saad Abedine and Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Thu May 30, 2013
  • A conservative writer argued in a tweet that working women in Saudi Arabia would be harassed
  • The Western press mistranslated his tweet, Abdallah al-Dawood says
  • Some thought the conservative author was calling for men to harass women sexually
  • Netizens in Saudi Arabia went after him

(CNN) -- A conservative novelist in Saudi Arabia has triggered a firestorm on social media after one his tweets was misunderstood in Western media.

The translation snafu hinged on a subtle grammatical fine point, said Abdallah al-Dawood.

An article on the Financial Times online reported that he had called for women working as cashiers to be sexually harassed.

The story was picked up by several news outlets, including the BBC and the Huffington Post.

Even Arab media that reported on him used the erroneous Western translation. Al Arabiya, for example, cited the BBC story.

Al-Dawood sought to clarify his stance in interviews with journalists.

Speaking with Sabq, a Saudi daily, the hardliner vented his anger over the mistranslation of his message. No one had called or messaged him to confirm its meaning, he said.

By then it was too late.

It all began with a tweet on Sunday.

Women in Saudi Arabia have begun working in shops, triggering vitriol from religious conservatives.

Al-Dawood took to Twitter to express in his conservative criticism of women working as receptionists or cashiers to his 98,000 plus followers. He linked to an ultra-conservative academic study to support his view.

His tweet:

Getting lots of "interaction in the trending of #femalecashiers #harassfemalecashiers This a link to a master's degree thesis that considers the job of the female receptionist and cashier to be human trafficking."

The hash tag #harassfemalecashiers raised ire with some who took it as a command to 'harass female cashiers.' But in Arabic the wording can be understood two ways. Al-Dawood was using the phase to say: "They would harass female cashiers," he has said.

He was arguing that woman should not work as cashiers, because they would be harassed.

A prominent female tweeter with over 22,000 followers lit into Al-Dawood. @NoonArabia wrote: "Sickening! MT: @Happy_Arab: #Saudi extremist calls upon men to sexually harass #women cashiers."

Ahmed Saleeti, a Saudi netizen with nearly 14,000 followers, tweeted "... there is nothing worse and silliest than the causes that we deal with and no one is more trivial than our religious scholars."

Al-Dawood believes that if women are allowed to work at certain jobs, some men will treat with them with as much disrespect as they would trafficked women.

Now he is experiencing firsthand the new reality in the age of social media: one need not even leave home to get a hard time in public.

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