The government of Saudi Arabia (the only country in the world which the ruling dynasty has named for itself) is resisting the spirit of revolution now electrifying the Arab world. There is an appearance of liberty in some aspects of life in the Kingdom–Saudi citizens study and travel abroad freely, they have access to the internet, Facebook, Twitter and the like, there are activist/civil society organizations–but when it come to the stark difference between the official status of men and women, change is painfully slow.
The latest slap in the face: Last week the government reneged on its promise to let women vote in this year’s municipal council elections. Electoral committee head Abdulrahman al-Dahmash blithely remarked: “We are not ready for the participation of women in these municipal elections.” Next time, he promised.
Saudi Arabia is probably the only remaining country in the world in which men can vote but women can’t.
Saudi women activists were disgusted. “I have grown used to the (attitute of) Saudi officials and women’s oppression. All their decisions are disappointing. . . . I know these mentalities that despise women. . . . These men who run society still live in the pre-globalization and pre-modernity times,” said Wajiha al-Hwaidar. Figuratively shaking her fist, al-Hwaidar added: “Women have to take to the streets, or organize sit-ins. Otherwise, they will remain like cattle . . . .”
King Saud University lecturer Hatton al-Fassi has a wonderfully subversive idea: if the government won’t grant power to women, women should assume power. She proposes that women create “shadow councils,” to monitor the council members they can neither choose nor join. With any, luck that will irritate the government and stimulate discussion of the issue.
But deplorable as the condition of Saudi women is, it is manifoldly better than that of the foreign workers in the Kingdom. Maids, generally from poor Asian countries, are brutalized and abused by their employers–Saudi women as well as men.
On April 2, a Saudi judge overturned the conviction of an unnamed 53-year-old Saudi woman who had been convicted of torturing her Indonesian maid, Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa. Sumiati claimed that she was beaten till her bones were broken and she was bleeding internally; she was stabbed and slashed with scissors, and a hot iron was pressed to her head. The photos taken of her in the Riyadh hospital are horrifying.
But the judge ruled that the maid’s lawyer failed to produce concrete evidence during the trial. The defendant’s lawyer said that the maid refused to take an oath, which suggests that she refused to testify.
A person should hesitate twice and thrice before criticizing judicial proceedings he didn’t attend and without knowing what all the evidence was. But. Even if Sumiati didn’t testify, there were her medical records. Did the court believe the defendant’s unbelievable claim that Sumiati inflicted her gruesome injuries on herself?
Sumiati’s lawyer vowed to appeal.