Hissa Hilal: strong words, softly spoken
From beneath a veil, a Saudi woman is setting her conservative Arab homeland alight.
Hissa Hilal is already challenging convention by being at once a journalist and a wife and mother of four children. But it is her blistering poetry - recited while dressed in a traditional head-to-toe abaya cloak and broadcast on traditional Arabic television - that is really defiant. Using a traditional verse form native to the Arab Peninsula's nomadic tribes, she writes critically about the country's hard-line Muslim clerics, calling them: "vicious in voice, barbaric, angry and blind". Condemning the violence that she says lies beneath their religious messages, her poems speak of some of the clerics "wearing death as a robe cinched with a belt" - an apparent reference to suicide bombers' explosives belt. Her poems rail against what she sees as a dangerous and excessively conservative shift in Arab society and mores, from within a country where women cannot travel without a male guardian and are forbidden from driving.
"What made me so angry is seeing the Arab society becoming more and more kept to itself, not like before - loving and caring and sharing and open and welcoming everyone," she told the BBC's World Service. "Now, even if you want to be simple and nice with others, people are asking themselves whether it is haram [forbidden] to say hello to strangers," she said, adding: "I blame those who have led the people, and directed them this way."
Hissa Hilal's words are delivered from beneath a spotlight and televised across the Arab world from the capital of UAE, Abu Dhabi, on a reality television programme called The Million Poets, where contestants compete to be the best poet. If she wins, she will take home a prize of $1.3m (£870,000) in cash.
She describes the experience of reaching the competition's final - due to be aired next week - as "amazing", but her poetry has also sparked death threats on Arab websites, with some outraged commentators saying she is acting shamefully.
Her voice grows quiet when she describes how some have posted messages asking for her home address - with the underlying threat that they would track her down and kill her. But, she says, many more have expressed support for her poems. She told the BBC that women especially have said they are rooting for her. "Even old ladies, young ladies, they all said: 'You are our hope'. Most of the people loved what I said, from their hearts. They think I am very brave to say so, and that I said what they feel in their hearts."
She explains the apparent contradiction in the fact that she advocates women's rights while wearing the full veil - which some suggest is a symbol of female oppression: "Covering my face is not because I am afraid of people. We live in a tribal society and otherwise my husband, my brother will be criticised by other men."
While her poetry is intended for a wide audience, the act of covering herself, she says, is out of understanding for her male relatives. "I know they love me and they support me. It's a big sacrifice for them in such a society to let me go to the TV and talk to the media. I am hoping my daughters won't have to cover their faces and they'll live a better life," she said.
A published poet, Mrs Hilal - who is reported not to have studied at university - held the position of poetry editor for the Arab daily newspaper, al-Hayat.
A fan of Victorian writer Charles Dickens and US author Ernest Hemingway, Mrs Hilal says her fundamental message is one of peace and understanding: "I know the world is a small village. From my heart I wish peace and love for everybody."
Hey, folks! In looking around the internet to see if I could find anything more about her, I've found an article that goes much more in depth than this one. It also features one of her poems, complete, and translated into English. If you want a deeper look into the Arab world's analysis of this woman, check it out: