Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

A first for conservative Saudi Arabia: a female newspaper editor

By Leone Lakhani and Michael Pearson, CNN
updated 6:32 AM EST, Tue February 18, 2014
Somayya Jabarti
Somayya Jabarti
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Longtime deputy of outgoing Saudi Gazette editor-in-chief will take over
  • Somayya Jabarti is believed to be the first woman to head major Saudi newspaper
  • "This is just the starting point," Jabarti tells CNN
  • "This is a totally new step for Saudi Arabia," another journalist says

(CNN) -- Like other Saudi women, she's not allowed to drive or move around freely. But Somayya Jabarti will soon be setting the news agenda for thousands of readers in the Middle Eastern kingdom.

In what appears to be a first for male-dominated Saudi Arabia, Jabarti has been appointed editor of a major newspaper, the English-language Saudi Gazette.

She will take over as editor-in-chief from her longtime mentor, Khaled Al Maeena, the outgoing editor said in an article published Sunday on the newspaper's website.

"I've had the goal almost as long of wanting to see a Saudi woman enter the male-dominated bastion of editors-in chief," Al Maeena wrote. "It was not a question of gender but of merit that decided and earned her this opportunity."

Women detained for defying ban on driving

Jabarti's appointment has generated praise on social media. But it remains to be seen how it will be received by the larger public in the conservative kingdom, where religious interpretations impose a de facto ban on females driving, among other restrictions involving women.

"This is a totally new step for Saudi Arabia," Saudi journalist Essam Al Ghalib told CNN. "She is very qualified and it's about time. But how will people react, we'll have to wait and see."

"The biggest challenge she may face is being accepted by the male-dominated circle of journalists," he said.

Jabarti told CNN that she is unfazed.

"It is a male-dominated field, like many media in the world," she said. "There will be challenges, but there is ground to be broken. This is just the starting point."

Jabarti began her career in journalism in 2003 as a reporter and translator for the Arab News, then headed by Al Maeena. She eventually rose to deputy editor-in-chief at the newspaper in 2011 before joining the Saudi Gazette with Al Maeena.

It was not a question of gender but of merit that decided and earned her this opportunity.
Khaled Al Maeena, outgoing editor

The Saudi Gazette has a circulation of about 47,000, Al Maeena told Al Arabiya News in September.

Jabarti will take over the newspaper amid significant challenges to press freedom in Saudi Arabia.

Reporters Without Borders recently said Saudi Arabia ranks near the bottom of countries around the world in press freedom.

The organization cited the arrests and punishment of journalists who wrote about sensitive issues in Saudi Arabia, including religion and the ban on women driving.

On Sunday, the Saudi Gazette also carried a story citing a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Information threatening to shut down online news sites that "publish offensive material about Islam, the country, or traditions."

READ: 4 Saudi female drivers' detention varied by their locations

READ: Wife: Saudi blogger recommended for apostasy trial

CNN's Leone Lakhani reported and wrote in Abu Dhabi. Michael Pearson wrote in Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT