The Harvey Weinstein story brought feminism into the limelight as the globalised world consciously tries to become a place where both men and women are treated equally. Saudi Arabia too on its part tried for an image makeover as the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman tried to make the conservative Kingdom a bit more moderate. However, it seems all was just a mirage and Saudi Arabia is living in a parallel world as a Saudi promo video labels feminism, atheism, homosexuality as extremist ideas.
A promotional video published by Saudi Arabia’s state security agency categorizes feminism, homosexuality and atheism as extremist ideas and claimed that “all forms of extremism and perversion are unacceptable”.
This sets a dangerous precedent as the Kingdom despite its relentless PR which portrays the Kingdom as a welcoming one, it continues to crack down on any form of dissent. The Saudi authorities later backtracked on the claims in the video by blaming it on the action by individuals. The animated clip was posted on Twitter at the weekend by a verified account of the State Security Presidency which reports directly to the King. In a statement published by state television, the security agency said the video contained a number of mistakes in defining extremism, and that the individuals who made the video did not do their job properly. It has since been removed. It is important to note that neither statement referenced homosexuality and atheism- which have long been illegal and punishable by death in the absolute monarchy. In March 2014, the Saudi interior ministry issued a royal decree branding all atheists as terrorists, which defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based and Apostasy till date continues to be punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.”
When Saudi Arabia allowed its women to drive in the country, the World thought that the Kingdom is finally opening up. On the contrary, it was nothing but an imagery exercise as the Kingdom in the same breath detained nearly a dozen women’s rights advocates weeks before a ban on women driving – which they had campaigned against – was lifted last year. Activists and diplomats speculated that may have been a message that reform would happen only at the government’s initiative. The Kingdom maintains that the women were arrested on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad.
Until recently, Saudi women were forbidden to move around in the country without a male guardian accompanying them. Also, it is mandatory to wear Abaya and Naqab that too preferably black whenever they step outside their house if they wish not to be detained. The Abaya is a loose, baggy garment meant to cover up the whole body except the hands and feet, often paired with a Niqab that covers the face. Any slips and blunders may invite a reprimanding from the religious police. In fact, members of the opposite sex themselves may take the liberty to chastise or remind a woman of the rules. As of late, even the non-black Abaya is facing criticism from conservative men.
The Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) has stated in an interview to CBS television, “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men.” But then, confusing the audience, he said, “(the law) does not particularly specify a black abaya. (It) is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire to wear.” So he may be “okay” with the rising trend of colourful Abayas but the idea of no abayas at all seems distant.
Saudi’s interpretation of Islamic/Sharia law is very similar to ISIS as the Kingdom exports Wahhabi ideology to different parts of the world giving rise to extremism from Europe to Sri Lanka. The ghastly Easter attacks in Sri Lanka saw nine suicide bombers blowing themselves up across Churches and hotels in the backdrop of Easter Day celebrations. The bomb attacks had ended up killing more than 250 people and the Sri Lankan government blamed the spread of Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam for planting the seeds of militancy which have prompted the island country to begin cracking down on the exporters of Wahabi ideology. Austria too has started the crackdown as it recently shut down 7 mosques kickstarting crackdown on radical Islam.
Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ideology is fast emerging as a major cause of concern for the rest of the world and if the Kingdom continues to muzzle the basic rights of women, it will become a question of not ‘if’ but ‘when’ the country witnesses an uprising which threatens to throw away the monarchy. What comes as another astonishing fact is that the global liberal fraternity snoozes peacefully. The liberal fraternity has completely no call on the matter and chooses to stay quiet over Saudi Arabia.