by Ali Alyami
While President Obama and his European counterparts are going out of their way to apologize for defending their citizens' democratic way of life and to assure Muslims, especially the rich Gulf royals, that the West is not "at war with Islam" but rather with terrorists groups such as Al-Qaeda, a cadre of Saudi women is unabashedly challenging Saudi religious extremism and its destructive impact on them, their children, society and the international community.
Prominent among those opposing the ferocious, divisive and hate-promoting religious extremists is a fearless Saudi Princess, Basma Bint Saud. According to a recent interview by the Independent newspaper, UK, "She is the 115th - and last - child of King Saud, the eldest surviving son of Saudi Arabia's founding monarch Abdul Aziz." Basma ("Smile" in Arabic) grew up in luxury, was trained by nuns, is a divorced mother of five and a successful restaurateur who now resides in London to protect her children from possible family reprisals for her outspokenness. She challenges her family's tyrannical rule, rampant corruption and dysfunctional institutions, which she justifiably blames for the government's colossal failure to meet its obligations toward its marginalized populations, especially women and children.
One of her targets is the vicious Saudi government's voluntary religious police, known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, or the "Hay'ah" in Arabic. She has correctly challenged their religious legitimacy and their offensive treatment of the public, particularly women. Like many Saudis and human rights groups, she largely attributes the country's backwardness to the medieval mentality and spiteful behavior of the Hay'ah as exemplified by their high-handed treatment of people as guilty until they prove their innocence. In one of her piercing and expressive narratives she wrote, "I searched and re-searched in history's archives, in the Prophet and in his Companions' books and found no mention of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice; but found a phrase in the Quran that said: All Muslims should promote virtue and prevent vice."
Princess Basma stands out because of her status and royal affiliations, which make her work considerably weighty. However, she is not the only or most productive woman who is challenging the government's fierce "religious" police and their relentless social, political and economic war against Saudi women whom the illiterate "religious" police consider incomplete human beings and "perpetual minors." There are many courageous non-royal Saudi women activist pioneers in the academia, businesses, financial, media and technical fields, as well as ordinary mothers, sisters and wives who are demanding better and humane treatment, including the removal of all denigrating restrictions inflicted on women, such as the dehumanizing male guardian system; the ban on driving; the denial of economic opportunities, and forced and childhood marriages which, under international declarations on human rights, are considered rape and child trafficking.
Women such as Eman Al Nafjan, Fawzia Al-Bakr, Wajeha Al-Hwaider, Reem Asaad, Alia Banaja, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Suhair Al Qurashi, Manal Al-Sharif, Ebtihal Mubarak, Hissa Hilal and even two of King Abdullah's daughters, Sitta and Adella, just to name a few, are in the forefront in the struggle for women's rights, considered by the religious establishment a Western value designed to destroy Islam's holy traditions. This view translates into male domination over every aspect of women's lives and livelihoods. The institutionalized system of social, political and economic discrimination against half of Saudi society, women, could not succeed if it were not for the blessing of the Saudi ruling elites, especially its staunchest supporter, Interior Minister Prince Naif, the next in line to inherit his family's throne.
What is becoming increasingly and inexplicably clear to the Saudi people in general, but specifically to Saudi women and to other people involved inhuman rights, is the West's continued support for the Saudi autocracy at a time when many Western governments, with the exception of Bahrain, support the Arab people's uprising against despotism, oppression and the rampant squandering of public wealth. The Saudi people hear, read and see people in the West fighting Muslim terrorists in many parts of the world, while in the meantime, the same people in the West are supporting a system whose institutions are well known for their propagation and financing of religious extremists and terrorists worldwide.
Further, many Saudis and other Arab thinkers and analysts of the Arab World have become increasingly suspicious of the West's overt support for the unprecedented Arab people's uprising. Many began to theorize that the West is in favor of empowering anti-democracy Islamist and Salafist groups, as in Egypt and Tunisia now. These observers argue, mostly in the social media and in one-to-one discussions, that by reaching out to and embracing religiously-based parties who rose to power as a result of the Arab Uprising, the West has duplicitous objectives. These observers see the West's acquiescing to Islamist efforts to derail and Islamize the Arab Uprising as further evidence of the West's duplicity and hidden objectives.
The most convincing argument about the West's double-standard and assumed objectives is presented by many Saudi women from all walks of life, who ask simple questions that are hard to dismiss as conspiratorial or fabricated stories. They ask: If we are willing to face imprisonment, lose our jobs and families, be stigmatized and humiliated under the autocratic and theocratic Saudi system for trying to rid ourselves and the world of dangerous ideologues, why does not the West, which claims to be fighting the same extremists, support our struggle publicly and unequivocally?
The Saudi women's march for their legitimate and citizenship rights are unstoppable and irreversible, whether the Saudi ruling men and their supporters in the West like it or not. Given this courageous reality, wouldn't it be prudent for Western government and their institutions to support Saudi women, especially as they are in the forefront in the fight against religious extremism which poses such a real threat to democracies worldwide?Dr. Ali Alyami is the Executive Director and founder of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, based in Washington, DC.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.