February 19, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 472

Saudi Columnist on Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia

February 19, 2003
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 472

In an article published in the Saudi English daily Arab News, Saudi columnist Amr Muhammad Al-Faisal wrote of his surprise at learning of the limited rights granted to women in Saudi Arabia. The following are excerpts from the article:[1]

'Saudi Law Does Not Allow Women to Run a Business Even if They Own It'

"I have followed with great enthusiasm reports of the goings-on [at] the recently concluded Jeddah Economic Forum. Prominent among the stories was the presence of Saudi businesswomen at the forum. I discussed with one delegate, a well-known Saudi lawyer, the importance of these gatherings which can motivate and encourage businesswomen to publicize their contributions to the national economy. The lawyer advised me not to be impressed by such ideas; with an arch smile, he asked if I was aware that Saudi law does not give women the right to run a business by themselves even if they are the owner of the business."

"He then launched into explanations of the commercial laws that ban women from running businesses. A businesswoman who owns a company or even a group of companies worth millions of riyals has to appoint a male guardian or agent to run the business on her behalf. It is as if she were a minor or inexperienced, underage person who cannot be trusted to manage her own money and affairs. The woman, it seems, is allowed to work as an employee in her company but she cannot administer her company except through her agent. To tell the truth, all this information came as an utter surprise to me. I thank God that such information has not yet leaked outside our beloved country."

"As some of you might be aware, a group of people from this country — myself among them — have since September 11 been engaged in continuous discussions with foreign delegations which have been visiting our country. These people are coming here from various parts of the world, particularly Western countries. We meet them and try to explain to them the situation here, seeking to correct the distorted ideas they have about the Kingdom, its laws and traditions."

"These individuals criticize us for what they say is the persecution of women in this country, alleging that women are denied their rights and freedom."

"A great deal of discussion, sometimes intense and heated, centers on these issues. With the help of a number of Saudi women, we respond to their accusations and attempt to show them that their perceptions are not necessarily one hundred percent correct and that there are in fact a wide variety of views and opinions on these issues."

"Not allowing women to drive and not allowing girls to participate in sport at schools and colleges are some issues that we do indeed find difficulty in defending.All the same, we respond with arguments that we believe are at least in part convincing and can at least absolve us of the charge of persecuting women. In our discussions with these visitors, we invariably focus on the rights which Islam grants to women — and those include the right of women to acquire and manage wealth."

'I Fear This Could Become a Source of Great Embarrassment To... All Those Who Defend the Kingdom'

"Now after learning that women are not allowed by the Kingdom's laws to administer their own businesses, I fear this could easily become a source of great embarrassment to me and all those working to defend the Kingdom. We may not be able to present convincing reasons for what women are not allowed to do in the country that is the birthplace of Islam."


[1], January 28, 2003.

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