Reporters on the Job

Saving Face: Before correspondent Faiza Saleh Ambah flew to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to attend the trial of jailed reformists August 23, she was told by their lawyer that the judge would not allow her into the courtroom if her face was not covered.

"I had never covered my face before, usually just loosely wearing a tarha or head scarf," Faiza says. "So I went shopping for a niqab, a face mask with slits for the eyes, and the salesman showed me how to wear it. It was funny because when I wasn't looking in the mirror, I couldn't tell I was wearing it, except for after a while, when the part covering the mouth started steaming up."

Once in the courthouse in Riyadh, Faiza stood around with the other women wearing the niqab. But she noticed something strange. When fellow journalists passed by, she would smile and nod - only to be ignored. "That's when I realized they didn't know who I was. Then I said hello to Saudi journalist or reformist friends and they said, 'Sorry, who are you?' "

Despite the unexpected anonymity, Faiza says she gained a lot of respect for women in niqab when the wives of the reformists stood in a line with a crowd of about 80 men behind them, and confronted a phalanx of policemen blocking the stairs. "Despite their niqab, or because of their niqab, they were outspoken and fearless," she says, "and threatened to break the policemen's lines and go up the stairs to attend the trial, if they didn't let them through."

Faiza says it was an adventure for her wearing the niqab for four hours. "But I was happy when I got back to the car and was able to take it off," she says. "Still, I was very grateful for it because it gave me a chance to participate in a groundbreaking trial and because it gave me a chance, albeit anonymously, to tag behind a group of tough women defying armed policemen."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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