Detained Saudi womens’ activists branded as traitors – The Globe and Mail

So much for MBS’s efforts to present an image of reform:

Just weeks before Saudi Arabia is set to lift its ban on women driving, the kingdom’s state security said Saturday it had detained seven people who are being accused of working with “foreign entities.” Rights activists say all those detained had worked in some capacity on women’s rights issues, with five of those detained among the most prominent and outspoken women’s rights campaigners in the country.

Pro-government media outlets have splashed their photos online and in newspapers, accusing them of betrayal and of being traitors.

The women activists had persistently called for the right to drive, but stressed that this was only the first step toward full rights. For years, they also called for an end to less visible forms of discrimination, such as lifting guardianship laws that give male relatives final say on whether a woman can travel abroad, obtain a passport or marry.

Their movement was seen as part of a larger democratic and civil rights push in the kingdom, which remains an absolute monarchy where protests are illegal and where all major decision-making rests with the king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Some state-linked media outlets published the names of those detained, which include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Najfan.

Rights activists who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussion say Madeha al-Ajroush and Aisha al-Manae are also among the seven detained. Both took part in the first women’s protest movement for the right to drive in 1990, in which 50 women were arrested for driving and lost their passports and their jobs.

All five women are well-known activists who agitated for greater women’s rights. Several of the women were professors at state-run universities and are mothers or grandmothers.

The Interior Ministry on Saturday did not name those arrested, but said the group is being investigated for communicating with “foreign entities,” working to recruit people in sensitive government positions and providing money to foreign circles with the aim of destabilizing and harming the kingdom.

The stunning arrests come just six weeks before Saudi Arabia is set to lift the world’s only ban on women driving next month.

When the kingdom issued its royal decree last year announcing that women would be allowed to drive in 2018, women’s rights activists were contacted by the royal court and warned against giving interviews to the media or speaking out on social media.

Following the warnings, some women left the country for a period of time and others stopped voicing their opinions on Twitter.

As activists were pressured into silence, Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old heir to the throne stepped forth, positioning himself as the force behind the kingdom’s reforms.

Human Rights Watch says, however, the crown prince’s so-called reform campaign “has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment.”

“The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Last year, Prince Mohammed oversaw the arrests of dozens of writers, intellectuals and moderate clerics who were perceived as critics of his foreign policies. He also led an unprecedented shakedown of top princes and businessmen, forcing them to hand over significant portions of their wealth in exchange for their freedom as part of a purported anti-corruption campaign.

In an interview with CBS in March, he said that he was “absolutely” sending a message through these arrests that there was a new sheriff in town.

Activists say writer Mohammed al-Rabea and lawyer Ibrahim al-Mudaimigh, two men who worked to support women’s rights campaigners, are also among the seven detained. Al-Mudaimigh defended al-Hathloul in court when she was arrested in late 2014 for more than 70 days for her online criticism of the government and for attempting to bring attention to the driving ban by driving from neighbouring United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia.

Those familiar with the arrests say al-Hathloul was forcibly taken by security forces earlier this year from the UAE, where she was residing, and forced back to the kingdom.

In recent weeks, activists say several women’s rights campaigners were also banned from travelling abroad.

Immediately after news of the arrests broke, pro-government Twitter accounts were branding the group as treasonous under an Arabic hashtag describing them as traitors for foreign embassies.

The pro-government SaudiNews50 Twitter account, with its 11.5 million followers, splashed images of those arrested with red stamps over their face that read “traitor” and saying that “history spits in the face of the country’s traitors.”

The state-linked Al-Jazirah newspaper published on its front-page a photo of al-Hathloul and al-Yousef under a headline describing them as citizens who betrayed the nation.

Activists told the AP that some in the group were arrested on Tuesday and at least one person was arrested Thursday. They say the detainees were transferred from the capital, Riyadh, to the city of Jiddah for interrogations where the royal court has relocated for the month of Ramadan.

Activists say it’s not clear why the seven have been arrested now.

via Detained Saudi womens’ activists branded as traitors – The Globe and Mail

Women need to play a role in ‘restoring’ Saudi Islam: Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan challenges the patriarchy (and the Friedman puff piece on MBS):

In a wide-ranging interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a.k.a. “MBS”) discussed, among other topics, the recent anti-corruption drive and liberalization of Saudi society. Call it a kinder, gentler form of authoritarianism – with a progressive touch. Notably, MBS refused to address his country’s interference in Lebanese politics or its unconscionable scorched-earth policy in Yemen.

Nonetheless, Mr. Friedman was effusive of MBS’s plans to veer Saudi Islam to a “moderate, balanced Islam that is open to the world and to all religions and all traditions and peoples.” The Prince calls it a “restoration” of the faith to its origins – namely the Prophetic period in the early 7th century. This has the potential to reverse the puritanical strain (Wahhabism) currently at the heart of Saudi society, where, for example, a woman is under male guardianship from cradle to grave.

The late Sunni scholar Abdul Halim Abu Shaqqa chronicled in his comprehensive study of the Koran and authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim women were far more engaged in society during the Prophetic era. They had more rights and opportunities to build a vibrant society, in partnership with men, than many contemporary Muslim cultures (including Saudi Arabia).

Mr. Friedman believes this “restoration” project “would drive moderation across the Muslim world.” In fact, most of the Muslim world has soundly rejected Wahhabism. Yet, the deeply entrenched patriarchy of Saudi society finds parallels in many Muslim countries.

While MBS has promised to grant Saudi women more liberty, his top-down approach towards “restoration” of Islam raises a number of questions.

Will the man who allowed women to drive, allow them a place to drive the “restoration” as well? Or will it be a vehicle steered exclusively by men, with women seated as passengers, while men alone navigate women’s role in society?

Women’s voices and perspectives will be essential if there is to be any meaningful reform of contemporary Muslim cultural practices.

In her groundbreaking book “Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition,” UBC Professor Ayesha Chaudhry makes it abundantly clear that the “Islamic tradition” – beginning a few centuries after the Prophetic era to the precolonial era – reflected worldwide patriarchy of the times. The hierarchical paradigm was unambiguous: God (or Allah) at the top, followed by men below, then by women subordinate to men and finally slaves below women. This view shaped pretty much all religious discourse – from Koranic exegesis to Islamic jurisprudence.

Ismail ibn Kathir, a 14th-century Sunni scholar whose works still carry great influence, was unequivocal. “The man is better than the woman,” he wrote in his authoritative commentary of the Quran. By no means was he alone. Prof. Chaudry’s meticulous research shows how devastating this paradigm was in relation to domestic violence. All Sunni scholars and jurists advocated beating a “recalcitrant” wife – specifying when, how often, where on her body, with either one’s fists or a sturdy object, and so on. The Hanafi school of jurisprudence was the harshest, allowing a husband the leeway to beat his wife as he saw fit, so long as he didn’t kill her. The book is a painful read, but should be read by those interested in reform.

The problem is that much of this patriarchal Islamic tradition – developed by male medieval scholars – is still taught uncritically in many Muslim seminaries and reflected in a number of Muslim cultures, where male privilege reigns.

Muslims must take a critical look at this tradition in light of contemporary norms. Like Abo Shaqqa, Prof. Chaudhry points out the obvious: Domestic violence advocates were/are unable to reconcile the fact that the model for all Muslims, Prophet Muhammad, never once raised his hand. He rebuked those who did.

The postcolonial period had ushered in a more egalitarian view, in which men and women are on the same moral plane before God. However, this approach has had uneven acceptance. Very rarely will men give up their privileged position to be on equal footing with women.

Yet Muslim women still insist on gender justice. Contemporary female Muslim scholars, such as Prof. Chaudhry, Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Asma Lamrabet, have challenged patriarchal interpretations of the Koran, thereby providing women with exegetical tools to confront male privilege rooted in theology.

Elsewhere, Muslim women in India are challenging the patriarchy entrenched in Muslim institutions, through education and legal reform. There are now female judges to solemnize marriages and adjudicate divorces, thereby restoring balance to proceedings which were exclusively presided by men.

If MBS really wants to return to a “moderate, balanced” Islam, he must include the perspectives of women on equal footing.

Anything less will be a whitewash.

via Women need to play a role in ‘restoring’ Saudi Islam – The Globe and Mail