With a few weeks left to the lifting of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, the administration has detained seven people who have been campaigning for women’s rights in the monarchy.
While the lifting of the ban is a victory by itself, Saudi Arabia is far from doing away with the superfluous permissions that women require from their male ‘guardians’ (father, husband, son or uncle) in nearly every aspect of daily life. Decisions with regard to travel, obtaining passports or signing contracts must be routed through the ‘guardian.’
The arrests come at a time when Prince Muhammad Bin Salman was beginning to be hailed for having lightly loosened the conservative reigns of the kingdom with his ‘reforms.’ Evidently, the monarchy has a long way to go in terms of the implementation of the policies that they ambitiously proclaim. The perception that any form of activism, particularly that of women demanding their rights, is a threat to the stability of the state, has not abated. The deep rooted fear of women claiming control over their lives manifests in ways that overshadow any positive bearing that the reforms may have. The BBC reports that in the weeks leading up to the lifting of the ban, men who oppose the measure have taken to Twitter with the hashtag ‘You won’t drive’ in Arabic. Changes in policy have apparently not reflected in personal lives. Those who have been detained since May 15 include women who have challenged the government’s ban on women driving and men who have voiced support for them.
The names of those arrested that have been made public include that of Loujain al-Hathloul and Aziza al-Yousef – women who have persistently advocated for the right of Saudi women to drive. In a classically hypocritical measure, they have been charged with treason and colluding with ‘foreign entities.’
Though the reasons for the arrest are ambiguous, soon after the lifting of the ban on women driving was announced in 2017, government authorities had allegedly warned several women who had campaigned for the same against talking about the issue. With these arrests coming so close to the actual lifting of the ban in June this year, is Prince Salman worried that his thunder may be stolen by the women who have been campaigning for their rights?