Fascinating article by Oliver Miles
Summary: Saudi Arabia shoots itself in the foot, bringing 10 women to trial for promoting lifting the ban on women driving.
The trial of ten women which began yesterday in Riyadh is a remarkable example of Saudi Arabia’s ability to commit self-harm (not an ability confined to Saudi Arabia).
The case arises from the issue of women driving, which in a different way had been another example, that one lasting over 50 years. The ban, unique to Saudi Arabia, was never convincingly justified on any grounds, Islamic law, tradition, security, even Saudi law. Arabian women have ridden and driven camels since time immemorial, and since the introduction of the motorcar herding livestock, largely women’s work, has mainly been done by car (Charles Doughty writes that “herding maidens may go alone with the flocks far out of seeing of the
According to a report in the Saudi newspaperOkaz investigations were concluded 12 days ago. At the court
The reports in Okaz and other Saudi newspapers are short on information such as the names of the accused, but the Saudi-based Arab News gives a bit more detail, adding that when local media said the accused were traitors and “agents of embassies”, Arab News criticized such reporting as unfair and unprofessional, and argued that the accused should be treated as innocent unless proved guilty.
Last week at least 36 countries including all 28 members of the EU (but not the US, although Mike Pompeo like Jeremy Hunt has reportedly raised this case during recent visits to Riyadh) included a call to release the activists in a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council. Three of the U.S. congresswomen mentioned in yesterday’s digest, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Tulsi Gabbard have on various occasions called for a boycott of Saudi Arabia,
The Arab News report adds that “The accused women generated a high level of publicity when they were arrested, and the opening of the trial also attracted considerable attention from international media and human right organizations.” That perhaps underestimates the importance of the case for Saudi Arabia’s image, tarnished as it currently is. At a time when women’s affairs and women’s rights are everywhere in the media, the damage this case will do goes beyond cases which are perhaps objectively more important, such as executions.
The media naturally love the fact that some at least of the accused are photogenic.