So much for “modernization.”
There are only a few weeks left before Saudi Arabia is due to lift its ban on women driving. But Saudi authorities have just arrested four of the most prominent women who fought for the recent changes to those archaic laws.
Iman al-Nafjan, Aisha Almane, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Aziza al-Yousef were arrested last week. Four male supporters were arrested with them.
A state spokesman said that the activists have been charged with “suspicious contact with foreign entities to support their activities, recruiting some persons in charge of sensitive government positions, and providing financial support to hostile elements outside the country.”
This government mouthpiece also said the women were trying to “destabilize the kingdom” and “breach its social structure” and “mar the national consistency.”
In other words, the Saudis are terrified that if they start letting women drive, they may soon have to start letting them out of the house on their own as well. And, eventually, they may even be forced to let their women walk about in the desert heat without wearing thirty pounds of curtains around their bodies and faces.
And that would “breach the social structure”!
Those who were deceived by the smiling face of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, are surely disappointed by the news of these arrests. After all, the leftist media wanted so desperately to believe that there were good folks in Saudi Arabia, folks like us, who understand that women are people and not property.
The mainstream media has been fawning on Mohammad bin Salman to a greater or lesser degree for months. Interviewers have portrayed him as an enlightened reformer who will cure the longstanding evils of Saudi society. They have given him a platform to push his anti-Iranian geopolitical agenda while giving mere lip-service to his planned “social reforms.” (To his credit, the very clever Prince Mohammad knew just how to trick the global media elites. It was all well played on his part.)
But it seems even the “reformers” in Saudi Arabia are quick to punish anybody who tries to make a real change to the status quo.
Saudi women’s-rights activists who live outside Saudi Arabia have been quick to condemn these arrests. Some, like Manal Al-Sharif, who now lives in Sydney, Australia, have said that these arrests are a return to the old way of doing things for the House of Saud.
“We used to live in a police state; if you speak up you go to jail. And then there would be a defamation campaign against you, saying all sorts of untrue things. Character assassination. We are seeing the same pattern again now.”
Al-Sharif also said that Saudi police arrested the women in their homes without a warrant, and the victims currently are not being allowed any contact with their families. This is textbook political repression by the Saudis, and its something they’ve gotten very good at doing over the last five decades.
Anybody who speaks out, or who might represent a threat to the power of the ruling family, gets trampled into the dust. Usually there are no trials, but state-sponsored media will savage the victims in the press in order to lend credibility to the government’s repressive actions.
Sure, the Saudis under Mohammad bin Salman seem to be making some progress. They recently allowed the opening of movie theaters and musical concerts again. And now they’re letting women into sports stadiums for the first time ever. Soon, they’ll even be letting women drive.
But the way they fundamentally do business in a political sense, the way they govern, has evidently not changed one bit. There hasn’t been a shift towards judicial due process. There hasn’t been an increase in transparency by the government. The Saudi press is still controlled by the Saudi state. Sure, they’ll let women watch a basketball game now.
But they’re still locking up dissidents and imprisoning their political enemies. Mohammad bin Salman’s “reforms” are all cosmetic, designed to polish up the Saudi turd in order to encourage more foreign investment and closer military ties with the West.
Manal Al-Sharif is right. There may be a friendly new face on Saudi Arabia. But underneath, in the kingdom’s rotten heart, nothing meaningful has changed.