Women Athletes, Women Drivers: Not In Saudi Arabia
Any country participating in the 2012 Olympics must allow female athletes to participate or risk being barred from global competition. Saudi Arabia, which follows a strict Wahabi interpration of Sunni Islam that prevents women from driving, traveling on their own or seeking certain medical procedures without a male relative’s approval, is one of the last hold-outs to follow the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s requirement regarding female athletes. With only 35 weeks before the Olympics will be held in London, Saudi Arabia has announced that women can join the team provided that they are living aboard. Currently, the Saudi government forbids women from participating in sports in state-run schools and there are no groups in the country organizing women’s sports.
18-year-old Dalma Rushdi Malhas, who lives aboard and won a bronze medal in the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics, is the likely choice for Saudi Arabia’s Olympic team. Malhas went to the Youth Olympics at her own expense and told the Arab News:
“I didn’t care much about me being there as a representative of Saudi Arabia, because anyone could probably do that. But getting a medal was the key, and that’s not easy for anyone, and I wanted that — and only that gives recognition to my country
If Malhas does compete for Saudi Arabia, her event, equestrian competition, is far less likely to raise concerns among conservatives as riders compete fully clothed (though, of course, in pants), with only their hands and faces exposed.
Shura Report Claims Women Driving Will End Virginity
Buoyed by the Arab Spring protests, a number of Saudi women sought to defy the country’s ban on women driving by getting behind the wheel earlier this year. Some were detained and arrested for driving and one woman received a sentence of ten lashes; King Abdullah overturned the sentence. This past week, the Saudi Arabia’s legislative assembly, the Shura Council, published a report warning that women having the right to drive would mean the end of virginity in the country:
As part of his careful reform process, King Abdullah has allowed suggestions to surface that the ban might be reviewed.
This has angered the conservative religious elite – a key power base for any Saudi ruler.
Now, one of their number – well-known academic Kamal Subhi – has presented a new report to the country’s legislative assembly, the Shura.
The aim was to get it to drop plans to reconsider the ban.
The report contains graphic warnings that letting women drive would increase prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.
One woman who has been campaigning for women to have the right to drive has said that the report is “completely mad” and that the head of the Shura has said that the government is still considering lifting the ban.
Human Rights Repression
Amnesty International recently issued a new report describing a “new wave of repression” in Saudi Arabia at the same time as, throughout the Middle East and North Africa, pro-democracy uprisings have occurred and unseated the authoritarian rulers of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. A number of prominent Saudi activists have been jailed and an anti-terrorism law drafted that makes dissent a “terrorist crime.” While Saudi Arabia has not seen wide-scale demonstrations like those in other Arab countries, more than 300 people who participated in protests in the mostly Shiite Eastern Province have been arrested. Shiites have long said they are discriminated against and are restricted from getting some jobs, charges which the government denies.
Shiite cleric Sheikh Tawfiq Jaber Ibrahim Amr was arrested twice this year after calling for reforms and was charged with “inciting public opinion,” the report says.
And 16 men, including prominent activists, were sentenced Nov. 22 to prison terms of up to 30 years after being convicted of charges such as sedition and forming a secret organization. During their trial, which Amnesty called “grossly unfair,” the defendants were cuffed and blindfolded and their lawyer was barred from the court for the first couple of sessions, the organization said.
After the verdict, defense lawyer Bassim Alim said that the defendants’ families, judges whom they knew and he himself were all “shocked.” Alim also said that
“I do not have any hope with how things are moving now.”
Even with the news that the Saudi government may allow a woman on its Olympic team, the Shura report’s claim that letting women drive will “increase prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce” is yet another disturbing sign about how “things are moving now” — or rather how they are not — in Saudi Arabia.
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Photo by Nouf AL Kinani نوف ال كناني