Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Washington DC
June 6, 2012
Commentaries and Analysis of the Saudi Current Scene
Saudi Women: Their Gains Are Victory For Righteousness and Prosperity
King Abdullah: Believing and Delivering Are Not the Same
CDHR’s Commentary: In October 2005, just two months after he formally inherited the Saudi throne, King Abdullah was interviewed by Barbara Walters of the American Broad Casting Company (ABC). Asked a pointed question about the status of Saudi women, his responsewas more personal than official, “I believe strongly in the rights of women. My mother is a woman. My sister is a woman. My daughter is a woman. My wife is a woman.”
While the king may very well believe in the rights of women, he has failed to deliver. The overwhelming majority of Saudi women are unemployed, not allowed to drive, and need permission from their male guardians to even get life-saving medication or deliver a baby in a hospital.
Furthermore, King Abdullah continues to empower Saudi women’s number one nemesis, the religious establishment, by making it illegal to criticize or question their pervasive powers. Because of the king’s failure to translate his words into actions, Saudi women have refused to sit idle. They are organizing, appearing on global media, and chipping away at the pillar from which the system draws its legitimacy and power, religious extremism.
In May 2012, two Saudi women reminded the world on separate occasions of the denigrating conditions imposed on them by the autocratic and theocratic elites who compose the Saudi political structure in their country. Manal Al Sharif, a well-known women’s rights activist,delivered a powerful speech in Oslo, Norway, about her experiences as a woman who has no rights in Saudi Arabia. A few days later, a previously unknown woman stood up to thenotorious Saudi religious police who chastised her for having makeup and showing portion of her hair while shopping.
Saudi Arabia will best be served if King Abdullah and his senior brothers instruct their obedient Mufti to issue a fatwa declaring that all forms of discrimination against women and segregation of genders are un-Islamic and harmful to the country’s stability, prosperity, and security. This is one step that will place Saudi Arabia in the amphitheater of modern nations.
Receding Fear Among Women
CDHR’s Commentary: After generations of marginalization and abrogation of their basic human rights, Saudi women are taking the lead in promoting religious, political, social, economic and educational change in their economically, religiously and strategically influential country. As they become more educated and well-informed of regional and global developments and trends, many Saudi women are becoming more disenchanted with their social conditions and impatient with their government’s institutionalized discriminatory policies against them.
Despite women’s efforts in the past, the last decade, especially since 2008, has witnessed more women’s activities that are slowly changing the extraordinary state resistance to reforms in Saudi Arabia. Most of the Saudi women activists rarely appeared in domestic or global media until they began to access modern technologies to mobilize and express their views on issues that could have merited heavy punishment by autocratic and theocratic Saudi authorities if discussed publicly.
Most of what the international community hears about or seems to be interested in is the Saudi women’s campaign for the right to drive. While this is an essential first step toward women’s mobility and emancipation from forced reliance on male relatives and hired hands, it’s not the only objective Saudi women are striving to achieve. They are working on other milestone initiatives that are beginning to change things for the better for them and for their society. Prominent among these initiatives are equality in economic opportunities, education, health care, sports and removal of impeding business laws, as well as de-legitimization of the denigrating male guardian system and child marriage. The dividends of achieving these basic citizenship objectives have sweeping implications not only for Saudi women and society, but for the international community.
Saudi women’s oppression is attributed to Islam as interpreted and practiced in Saudi Arabia. Given this reality, Saudi women’s gains can only be achieved by weakening the disproportionate power bestowed on the notoriously known Saudi religious establishment, which is an oppressive front for and tool of the Saudi ruling family. This is the same religious establishment whose chief architect and authority, the Saudi Mufti, issues Fatawi (religious edicts) condemning peaceful demonstrations as anti-Islamic teaching and promotingdestruction of Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula.
By challenging the strictures of the oppressive Saudi religious establishment and its overseers in the Saudi government, women are likely to bring about transformation of the intolerant, anti-democratic Saudi institutions that export and finance extremism and terrorism worldwide. The Saudi women’s struggle to achieve their rights benefits Western democracy; it makes sense that the West supports Saudi women in their efforts to rid themselves of religious and cultural oppression.
Saudi Reactions to an Activist’s Speech
CDHR’s Commentary: No sooner had a video of a Saudi woman activist giving an awardacceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, hit the media than the customary Saudi zealots and their followers began massive condemning attacks on Manal Al Sharif, a well-known women’s rights activist. They accused her of defaming Islam, of aiding the enemies of Islam and Muslim cultures, and that she is only interested in her own selfish advancement. Her attackers did not question the truth of what she said because she related her personal experiences which are shared by millions of other Saudi women.
The question that should be asked is, “Why are most Saudis and other Muslim and Arab respondents to Ms. Al Sharif’s eloquent and factual presentation negative and defensive?” Any objective listener of her speech would discover that she did not insult Islam, Muslims, or their democratically and scientifically stagnant cultures. She did not fabricate facts either. So what did she say or do to merit all the unkind, uncivilized, and unjustified attacks against her?
One may not like the message, but that does not make the messenger a less credible, intelligent, and caring person. The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow for all of us. A question to those who are quick to attack and act defensively is: What did Ms. Al Sharif say that was not true or cannot be substantiated?
Wouldn’t she be better off under the existing oppressive system if she, like her attackers, accepted and defended the status quo regardless of its brutality and discriminatory policies against women? It would have been easier had she shut her mouth, married a rich Saudi, made lots of money, bought an expensive home and imported cheap, poverty-stricken Asian maids and drivers to serve her.
Wouldn’t she have been better off keeping her prestigious and lucrative employment with Aramco, forgetting those whose basic rights are denied and grossly violated? Fame-and power-seekers do not risk their status to promote equality, dignity and justice; rather, they use wealth, influence and deception to buy loyalty and submission.
It is in the best interest of all Saudis, rulers and ruled (not governors and governed), to change the course of their society and embrace tolerance and freedom of expression regardless of how uncomfortable or offensive the ideas expressed may be.
Those who continue to oppose progress and individual liberty are on the wrong side of history, and at the end, they will lose. History is replete with vivid examples.
10 Brave Saudi Women defy all odds
CDHR’s Commentary: On May 7, 2012, ten brave Saudi women embarked upon a journey to climb Mount Everest to draw attention to Saudi women’s number one killer, cancer. This noble event attests to what determined people can do regardless of gender. In other countries, this event would have been seen for what it is: a humane undertaking to mobilize people to fight a deadly disease that has no borders.
However, the fact that this journey was planned and carried out by Saudi women made it more than a magnanimous mission. The fact that this challenging undertaking was achieved by Saudi women speaks volumes. In their homeland, Saudi women face more institutionalized discrimination than women anywhere else in the world. Prominent among the many restrictions and discriminatory polices is the male guardian system. Saudi women, regardless of status, cannot travel without a family member (male) or written permission from a male relative.
Saudi women are the only people in the world who are prevented from driving, practicing sports in their schools, participating in international activities, or marrying whom they want. These are only a few examples of the forbidding and denigrating male-made policies imposed on Saudi women.
Despite the Saudi regime’s social, political, economic, and religious policies directed against Saudi women, many women are slowly taking charge of their lives and livelihoods. They are rebelling against the Saudi male-controlled institutions, demanding their full citizenship and all it entails.
Before the establishment of Islam and in its early stages in the 6th and 7th centuries, women played major roles in Arab societies and sometimes held tribal leadership positions. Even in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, women worked in fields, herded livestock, and took on traditionally male responsibilities if they became single parents.
Most Saudi women have been living under debilitating, cancerous social conditions for many centuries. They are not only surviving but are determined to win. With symbolic actions such as the climbing of Mount Everest, Saudi women have demonstrated that they are capable, intelligent, and resolute, able to break the chains of oppression, defy neglect, and reject relegation to non-citizens status.
While these ten brave Saudi women are in a position to plan and carry out a noble mission, the overwhelming majority of Saudi women are underprivileged, oppressed, and financially dependent. However, no one, especially the theocratic and autocratic sword brandishing men, should continue to assume that the Saudi women of today are going to accept anything less than their full rights.
After these brave Saudi women return safely and triumphantly, they can organize a One Million Women’s March to draw attention to a deadlier man-made disease, the relegation of Saudi women to non-citizen (non-human) status. The march’s main banner should read something like this: “MOVE OVER, WE ARE HERE.
Some of the princesses like Adela Bint Abdullah, Ameerah Al-Taweel, Lolo Al-Faisal, Basma Bint Saud, and the others who travel the world seeking pleasures and appearances in Western media to depict their royal family as saviors can easily squeeze $50 million from their substantial royal incomes to get the march started.
The International Olympic Committee Supports Apartheid
CDHR’s Commentary: Despite a global outcry against the Saudi government’s persistent, discriminatory policy which bars Saudi women from taking part in the Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board has failed to enforce its rule which unequivocally states that, “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex, or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” In reality, the IOC’s failure to enforce its anti-discrimination mandate demonstrates its tacit approval of the Saudi government’s apartheid system.
The Saudi government’s policy of denying Saudi women the right to participate in the Olympic Games is antithetical to the intent of this supposedly inclusive sporting event. Why is the IOC unwilling to bar the Saudi delegation from participating in the Games if women are not included?
Saudi Arabia is increasingly becoming a global outcast because of its subjugation of women. In addition to being the only country in the world where women are banned from driving, it is now the only country where women are banned from participating in Olympic sports. The Saudi government can be convinced to reconsider its pre-modern thinking, policies, and condescending perception of women and their abilities to compete in any sport domestic or global sports. The committee has the power to give the Saudi government an ultimatum: include women in the Saudi delegation or be disqualified for violating Olympic rules.
South Africa was barred from the Olympic Games because of its Apartheid System which denied South African blacks their rights because of their color. Saudi women are denied their rights because of their gender. The question that must be asked is: “Why did the IOC admirably reject the South African Apartheid System and is shamefully supporting the Saudi gender apartheid?”
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