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memri
January 14, 2019 No.
7845

Against Backdrop Of The Affair Of The Fugitive Saudi Teen Girl, Saudi Journalist Harshly Criticizes Women's Status In Kingdom

The majority of Saudi responses to the affair of Rahaf Al-Qanun, the teen who fled her family in Saudi Arabia and sought asylum in the West, described her case as a "family affair" that has been blown out of proportion by "anti-Saudi forces" aiming to blacken the country's image. Saudis were also enraged by the fact that Al-Qanun has been offered asylum by Canada, whose criticism of the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia sparked tension between the two countries several months ago.[1] Mufleh Al-Qahtani, chairman of the government-funded Saudi National Human Rights Society, accused unspecified countries and international organizations "acting out of political motivations rather than humanitarian ones" of encouraging Saudi girls to rebel against their families. Hinting at Canada and at the UN Refugee Agency, which extended aid to Al-Qanun, he stated that these countries and organizations were "using their officials to incite Saudi delinquents and teenage girls to depart from their families' values and traditions that guarantee a dignified life and constant protection." This, he added, could eventually "lead [the girls] to perdition and perhaps into the arms of human traffickers."[2]   A report in the 'Okaz daily claimed that Canada "insists on politicizing the issue of human rights at a time when the crisis between Ottawa and Riyadh is still ongoing." Another 'Okaz report questioned the professionalism of the UN, which it said was occupying itself with "domestic matters" and "trivialities" instead of helping the "real refugees" around the world. [3]


Al-Qanun after landing in Canada (image: alkhaleejonline.net, January 12, 2019)

Articles by Saudi writers likewise claimed that the Rahaf affair was a family matter that had nothing to do with the status of women in Saudi Arabia. They stated further that the phenomenon of teens running away from home was a universal one, and that Rahaf's case had made headlines just because the global media and Saudi Arabia's enemies wished to exploit it in order to incite against the kingdom. Other articles emphasized that there has been significant improvement lately in the status of Saudi women. A few articles criticized the Saudi authorities' handling of the affair. [4]

A striking exception was a column by 'Azza Al-Subai'e in the daily Al-Watan. Writing under the title "I Am Not Rahaf but I Am Not Ok [Either]," she lamented the status of women in Saudi Arabia, and said that any Saudi woman could sympathize with her sisters who have found asylum in the West. Women in the kingdom are not happy, she wrote, and those who do not flee the country are in a state of seeking refuge from reality. She also blasted "opportunistic" Saudi women, apparently referring to certain journalists and officials, who dismiss cases like Rahaf's and parrot the claim that they are part of an "anti-Saudi conspiracy."

It should be noted that the article has been removed from the daily's website, presumably due to the harsh criticism it expresses.

The following are excerpts from it:

"When I asked [an acquaintance of mine] why she chose Christianity, she laughed. 'Why didn't you at least choose Judaism, so you wouldn't have to eat non-halal meat or drink wine on Christmas?' [I asked her]. She realized that I knew she had converted to Christianity just in order to receive asylum in Britain... on the grounds that she is a Christian tribeswoman and would be killed if she returned [to Saudi Arabia].

"To tell the truth, she is not the only young Saudi women I met who had fled to the West. An in-depth conversation with these women causes you to agree with them on certain important issues, to the point where you realize you are just as unhappy [as they were], and that the difference between you and them boils down to opportunity and ability: she fled to Britain whereas you, nobody knows that you are in a state of seeking refuge [from reality].

"Some sociologists claim that the problem of women in the Arab world is that the men see them as entities that have no independent [existence] outside the family. [They see them only as] wives, mothers or daughters – when they are [also] human beings. That is the root of our problem, because human beings have needs that the patriarchal establishment does not recognize [when it comes to women], and any need a woman has beyond her status [as a wife, mother or daughter] enrages [the man] and causes him to lift his arm [and inflict] physical harm upon the weaker party [i.e., the woman]. This ultimately leads... to lodging a complaint with the police, which many have found to be ineffective... [for] the response is tardy, and the affair ends with [the woman incarcerated in one of] the jails [called] 'shelters,' etc.

"Our problem as Saudi women is not confined to [our] genuine suffering due to the ancient laws and regulations that have not managed to actualize the vision and plans of the state. It also stems from [the existence of] opportunistic Saudi women who try to render people numb to this [suffering] by claiming that there is a conspiracy [against Saudi Arabia] just because the anti-Saudi media exploits the issue of the fleeing young girls. It's a well-known fact that people like to be told what they want to hear, and these opportunistic women give [people] what they want, whereas we are just a nuisance: women who nag and demand their rights, and who, moreover, remain a nuisance even after they are murdered."[5]  

 


[2] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 14, 2019.

[3] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 14, 2019.

[4] See 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), January 10, 11, 12, 13, 2019; Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), January 12, 13, 2019; Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), January 13, 2019; Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), January 12, 2019; Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), January 14, 2019, Al-Hayat (Dubai), January 13, 2019.

[5] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), January 12, 2019.