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July 7, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3980

Saudi Columnist Princess Basma bint Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud Describes the Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia as 'Slavery' and Says: Nobody Is Immune to the Winds of Change Sweeping the Arab Nation; 'We Must Grant Freedoms Before They Become Challenges'

July 7, 2011
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 3980

Following are excerpts from an interview with Saudi columnist Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud. The interview aired on BBC Arabic TV on June 28, 2011:

"Punishments Should Be the Same For Men And Women.... [But] the Woman Is Always Punished... Within a System of Laws That Do Not, In Fact, Exist In Our Shari'a"

Interviewer: "Your Royal Highness, you defend women's rights, and in your writings, you courageously cast light on the condition of Saudi women, demanding that they step up to the status they are worthy of. You said that 'slavery' is imposed upon Saudi women. Is this an accurate term?"

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "To say the least. Saudi women – and women in general in the Arab world – are subject to pressure that was not exerted upon them in the days of the Jahiliya, and even before."

Interviewer: "Who exerts this pressure?"

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "Society, which inherited tribalism rather than Islamic customs. We are familiar with Islamic customs, and we return to the Koran in order to know our rights as Muslims – men and women alike.

"What is being practiced de facto in our Arab societies is a tribal legacy, not an Islamic one. What is permitted is clear, and what is forbidden is clear, and punishments should be the same for men and women.

"What we see today, however, is that the woman is always punished, the woman is treated with violence. Thus, our society becomes a violent society, because the woman who suffers violence is the one who raises the children. She raises men and women. What will become of these future generations, if they are raised by women who suffer violence and subjugation, within a system of laws that do not, in fact, exist in our shari'a?"

Progress In Women's Status Under King Abdallah "Is Restricted To a Certain Group Of Women... The Elite"

Interviewer: "But is this really the case? Didn't the Saudi woman make many achievements under King Abdallah and assume prominent positions? Take for example, Dr. Khawla [Al-Kuraya] and [Minister] Norah Al-Faiz. There are women academics and journalists – yourself included. Sometimes it seems that the condition of the Saudi woman is being exaggerated."

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "This is true of 1% of the women in Saudi Arabia. Is it fair and just to focus on 1% of the women, ignoring the other 99%? I have mentioned in several columns that the Saudi woman, under the rule of King Abdallah bin Abd Al-Aziz, whom I love with all my heart, and whom I have called, in several columns, 'the lion of the Arabian Peninsula'… Within five years, he brought about a qualitative leap in the status of women, the likes of which Saudi society had not witnessed for 50 years."

Interviewer: "So there is progress…"

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "Yes, but this progress is restricted to a certain group of women, who appear in the media. This is the elite. But the rest of the women in society are subject to the laws that exist in our society as a whole. That is what I am talking about. I am talking about the Saudi woman who is not called Basma bint Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz, or Dr. Khawla, or other names that appear in the media. We live in an elitist society, and we have such opportunities because we were brought up in affluent families. The rest of the women do not enjoy such opportunities.

[…]

"The pioneer in changing these notions should be the Justice Ministry. When the government legislates laws, it means that there are problems addressed by these laws. But these laws reach a dead end at the Justice Ministry, and nothing else is done with them except to give them media exposure."

"We Must Change the Culture of the Arab People"

Interviewer: "What are the reasons for this?"

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "I asked them about the reasons, and they said: 'Bureaucracy.' So I asked who was responsible for the bureaucracy, and they said: 'Arab culture.' So I asked who was responsible for Arab culture, and they said: 'the Arab people.' Are we responsible for the state of our culture? And if we are responsible for it, we must step forward and say: 'We must change the culture of the Arab people.'

[…]

"The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice was founded by my late father, King Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz. The reason and purpose of its establishment were the same as those of Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, when he founded the Hesbah Committee, the mission of which was to prevent vice and to promote virtue. The concepts, however, have changed.

"What is prevention of vice, and what is promotion of virtue? In the days of the Caliph, they would go the markets, and would monitor the merchants and the prices, and would keep an eye out for bribery and administrative corruption. That was their mission."

Interviewer: "What does it do today?"

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "When it was established by my late father, its goal was to monitor civil society, in order to enable the citizens to live honorably, without corruption or bribery. As fate would have it, this has turned into social pressure, which targets, first and foremost, the Saudi woman. They preoccupy themselves with her face and her gloves, with the mixing of the sexes, and with matters that have led to the terrible consequences that we see today in our society. We have turned into a society that is afraid of…"

Interviewer: "Am I to understand that you support the demand to abolish this committee?"

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "I am in favor of reforming the way this committee operates and its goals, and of directing it [to supervise] the ministries of justice and social affairs – all the executives ministries – so that it can carry out the mission for which it was founded."

Interviewer: "But [the public] seems to accept this Committee. It is supported by official bodies, and as you know, there is an historical agreement between the Aal Saud family and the religious establishment."

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "Yes, it has been this way since the formation of the union. The goal of that union was to reform society, not to destroy it. What we are seeing today is the destruction of society.

[…]

"Personally, I believe that if the Committee wants to be effective… Reforming this Committee is difficult, because it was established on foundations that are completely wrong…

"As for abolishing the Committee and establishing a new one, with careful planning of its goals, its officials, its authorities… In my column, I advised…"

Interviewer: "You received advice too."

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "Yes. The advice I gave in my column was that the Committee should be headed by university graduates – professionals, sociologists, and psychologists, who would also have knowledge of the religious teachings, as sheiks and members of such a committee should be… This way, they could fulfill their mission properly.

"I was advised not to talk about these matters, so as not to get into things with which I am not as familiar as the authorities.

[…]

"These revolutions are the outcome of the pressures exerted on these peoples for something like 200 years, or at least since the beginning of World War I. Now the revolutions have become a force that knows nothing but the word 'freedom.'"[…]

"Nobody Is Immune To the Seasonal Winds That Sweep Our Arab Nation... We Must Grant Freedoms Before They Become Challenges"

Interviewer: "Is Saudi Arabia immune to the winds of change?"

Princess Basma bin Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud: "Nobody is immune to the seasonal winds that sweep our Arab nation. Anyone who says we are immune is wrong. Everyone is vulnerable to this, and everyone should pay attention and should know that we must begin national dialogue, and not wait for the challenges to grow. We must grant freedoms before they become challenges." […]

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