Is the Arab Middle East Really Ready for a True Revolution?
Posted By Phyllis Chesler On February 14, 2011 @ 8:00 am In Email,Feature,The Feminist Hawks' Nest | 4 Comments
Is the Arab Middle East really ready for a true revolution? A genuine uprising in the Muslim world which does not focus on the issue of women's rights is not much of an uprising and does not bode well for a true democracy, one defined by the rule of law, a constitutional system of checks and balances, a separation of mosque and state, freedom of religion, a free press, universal education, individual human rights and freedom.
Miraculously, amazingly, a Saudi woman or a number of Saudi women have just launched a new and fabulous Facebook page. They call it Saudi Women Revolution. It features a white smurf-like figure joyfully throwing off her chains and has links to the Saudi women's drive-in and to campaigns against child brides.
They are talking about arranging meetings in Jeddah and Riyadh.
Given what they know can happen to them: divorce, loss of custody, being honor murdered by their families, jail, torture (flogging), and murder (beheading, stoning), I must congratulate them for their awe-inspiring bravery. Alas, we do not have such brave women here.
I will also pray for their safety.
Please realize: The Kingdom is very severe, quite serious about repressing, oppressing, tormenting women. Yeseven those women who can shop-until-they-drop and who can afford the most expensive clothing, jewelry, furniture, and electronic entertainment; even those who are well educated; even those who are members of the royal family. All women are subject to the same laws. Women keep women in line psychologicallybut, in case that fails, the law takes over.
All Saudi women must be heavily, fully, face-and-body veiled, no matter how hot it is.
They must always be accompanied by a male escort if they leave home.
They cannot choose whom they wish to marry nor can they leave violent, polygamous, and philandering husbands.
They cannot leave the country without a male escort and without male family permission to travel.
They are forbidden to drive.
However, in 1990, Saudi women conducted a "drive-in" to protest the ban on women driving. I was privileged to know some of these magnificent women. Everyone was barred from foreign travel for one year. Those who had government jobs were fired. They were denounced from mosque pulpits by name as "immoral" women. According to one of the women, Fawzia al Bakr, "Wherever you work, you are labeled as a `driver' and you will never be promoted, no matter how good you are," she says.
The new Facebook page lists this drive-in as well as a petition to abolish child marriage. This is truly an example of great courage. Why?
All Saudi women live with the knowledge that even a Saudi royal princess is in no way exempt from these harsh laws. For example, in 1977, a Saudi princess dared to fall in love with a man of her own choosing. She tried to flee the Kingdom. She was caught. Her own grandfather sentenced her to be publicly shot in the head six times. Her fiancée was forced to watch her deathand he was then publicly beheaded. A gripping British documentary, "Death of a Princess," was made in 1980 about this tragedy.
All Saudi women know that in 2001, Dr. Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi, an assistant professor at King Saud University, was banned from teaching there. Her crime? As a historian, she has done research showing that women in the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period were actually freer than they are in Saudi Arabia today.
All Saudi women know that in 2002, terrified Saudi teenage girls were beaten back into a blazing Saudi schoolhouse because the religious police were furious that they had not had time to veil themselves properly as they fled; fifteen girls died.
All Saudi women know how savagely foreign female servants are mistreated; they are verbally and physically oppressed both by their female "employers" and sexually, by their male employers. Many are unpaid, some are murdered. There is very little redress for such crimes.
All Saudi women know what happened to a very high profile Saudi television "talking head." On April 4, 2004, prominent journalist Rania Al-Baz was beaten within an inch of her life by her husband and dumped outside a hospital. Her face was barely recognizable and she suffered 13 facial fractures because her husband had bashed her head repeatedly against the marble floor of their home. Breaking a national taboo against mentioning domestic violence in public, she permitted newspapers to print images of her injuries. The Saudi royal family offered her financial support, and the following month the first ever Saudi research on domestic violence was conducted by a Saudi university. Her husband was sentenced to six months in prison as well as a public flogging. He was released from prison after three months. She "forgave" him in order to get a divorce but she left the country and now lives in Paris. One assumes that Rania had to leave her children behind as hostages or as the property of their father.
All Saudi women know that in 2003, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, a prominent Saudi women's rights activist, was booted from her position as a journalist for two Saudi newspapers. Why? Al-Huwaider dared to criticize discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia. She leads the campaign to allow Saudi women the right to drive, and the Saudi secret police have detained her on multiple occasions for demonstrating on behalf of women's rights.
Ida Lichter has written an important book: Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression. She details twelve Saudi women reformers. I strongly suggest this book as a reference guide.
Saudi (and Iranian) feminists stir my imagination. They live as if they know that heroism is their only alternative.
President Obama, Secretary Clinton: Please offer your support to these unknown feminists. Do so nownot when it's too late. And, by the way, other Saudis have just announced the formation of a political party; true, it is merely a symbolic gesture since the Kingdom has no parliamentbut once again, show America in her best colors, and support this gesture as well.