Feminism, Saudi Arabia’s State Enemy

Monday 25 November 201903:37 pm
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Earlier this month, the Saudi General Directorate for Countering Extremism under the leadership of Saudi State Security, classified feminism as a form of extremism along with atheism, homosexuality, exhibitionism, slavery, terrorism, moral decay, frowning on reform, impugning the national identity, excommunicating Muslims, violation of Islamic Law, and heretical innovation in religion, and the list goes on.

On the 11th of November, the Saudi al-Watan newspaper pointed out that there will be "harsh punishment for feminists, extending to imprisonment and lashing."

After the production on a video by Saudi authorities condemning feminism Amnesty International revealed the extreme intolerance in the kingdom that contradicts the false veneer of reform that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman continues to boast of internationally – the Saudi Press Agency reported on the 12th of November a statement by the Saudi State Security declaring that: "Those who produced the aforementioned content were not successful due to the many mistakes that the video contained in defining extremism."

The statement proceeded to declare that "those who created the video and published it acted individually", promising to take necessary measures against them. Saudi state security also denied the report published in the al-Watan newspaper on punishment of feminists, labelling it as "false."

The story was going to end here, before a media campaign emerged – unknown if it was concerted or not – seeking to combat the concept of feminism in Saudi Arabia, despite the distancing of the leadership of state security from the video; the matter prompts questions surrounding the supposed innocence or spontaneity of the campaign and its goals.

Harmless Or Regrerssive

"It is what destroys women … it is the enemy of the virtuous and chaste woman" – in these words Saudi writer Ali al-Zamel described feminism in an article in the Saudi Observatory on the 13th of November, adding that the ideology is "harmless on the outside, but evil on the inside."

Al-Zamel added that most women adopt the "misconceived" concept of feminism without consciousness, adopting the role of a "weakened woman" and adding that women "still claim patriarchy is dominant though it has disappeared" adding "What else do you want? You are still talking about harassment when the reality is women are harassing men today just as much as men”.

Al-Zamel concluded that the things the complaints of feminists are not also the complaints of men, that those who support feminism are "enemies of society."

Feminism, A Low For Humanity

In another more scathing article, Saudi writer Abdullah al-Mazhar wrote in Makkah newspaper on 13 November that the "problem isn't in feminism – or the feminists – who understand and comprehend what belonging to this movement means, carrying out extremist corruptive duties out of conviction. I have no problem for a human to sink to the lowest form of debasement with their convictions, as that is up to them." Rather, al-Mazhar's problem lied in the "ambiguity in the promotion of the term feminism, and being disguised in the clothes of women rights", adding that if the Twitter accounts supporting "homosexuality, moral degradation and depravity, atheism and prostitution" were deleted, there would be no feminists remaining – finally stressing that "there is no Islamic feminism", comparing such a concept to "Buddhist Hanbalism [the Saudi school of Islamic jurisprudence]."

In vilifying feminism, Abdallah al-Mazhar, a Saudi journalist declared it incompatible with Islam, and as elusive as Buddhist Hanbalism, feminism is centered in the reproductive organs and is an animalistic demand.
Feminists pose a threat to the guardians of religion in Saudi Arabia who have controlled women’s affairs since the late 1970s repressing them under the guise of custom and tradition.
Saudi feminism calls for women to be "fully eligible citizens who follow the laws of the state not that of their guardians and tribes." Would that ever embraced by Saudi men?

Describing the demands of feminists as 'sexual' in nature, al-Mazhar added: "Calling for rights whose cause is centered in the lower part of the human body are animalistic demands which have nothing to do with women, men, or human beings in general," concluding his article by stating that "feminism is the lowest thing that the human mind has devised."

Extremist and Immoral

Meanwhile, Saudi writer Halima Muthfar wrote in al-Madina on the 17th of November that there is an extremist and immoral feminism that "strikes at the morals, religious values and templates of society."

Muthfar went on to note that there are those "who become extreme in their feminism with aberrant thought" – a statement which provokes many questions: for instance, who decides what is "aberrant" or deviant and what is acceptable? And why are the demands made for human rights so divided and categorized?

Saudi Women Targeted

Professor Nora Abdullah al-Hadib wrote in al-Yaum on 17 November that the term "feminist" is an intruder on Saudi society, and that it is the "duty of education to take care and caution from these shady ideas.

Al-Hadib added that Saudi Arabia has suffered and continues to suffer from "intellectual wars and imported terminology" which create divisions in society, affirming that "Saudi women were and continue to be targeted", and must therefore ignore the farces that have occupied some", in her words.

Human Rights Thugs

"A statement from the state security account declared that the publisher of the video made a mistake, and I believe it a commendable mistake because it revealed the following to us: those color-shifters who supported the video and then turned against it; the hateful attitudes of the vast majority of society to the ethics of feminists; and the manners of feminists which were revealed after the declaration of the video being a mistake and encompassed them attacking people with insults, defamation and threats."

So tweeted the writer and member of the Saudi Consultative Council, Kawthar al-Arbash –considered to be one of the strongest critics of the feminist movement in Saudi Arabia. She added that although the Saudi state did not classify feminism as a form of extremism, "society rejects and denies it."

Al-Arbash had also previously stated in a television interview that "feminists are the thugs of [human] rights."

Feminism is a movement calling for women rights, hoping to achieve equality between men and women socially, politically and economically. Attacks against the movement were multiplied in Saudi Arabia following the arrest of its leaders in May 2018, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Nouf Abdulaziz for threatening the "security of the country" and "inciting" members of society, for their call to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia and an end to the system of male custodianship.

Why Fear Feminists?

In an interview with Raseef22, Saudi feminist Sarah al-Yahya – the founder of the "White Ribbons" campaign in solidarity with girls and women detained at the "Care Home", a quasi jail for women under 30 who defy authority – declared that the concept of feminism in Saudi Arabia differs little from its understanding elsewhere in the world, which she summarizes as supporting the empowerment of women to enable them to attain their rights that were taken from them, as well as achieving independence in society – alongside the eradication of outdated traditions that control her fate.

Al-Yahya added that the state is fighting feminism through indirect means such as detaining feminists without clear charges. On the reasons for the state's fear, al-Yahya stated that feminists "pose a threat to the guardians of religion in Saudi Arabia who have controlled women’s affairs since the late 1970s and repressed them under the rule of customs and traditions."

She continued: "To use these customs against women, they were given a 'Sharia' cover through fatwas [religious rulings] and extremist religious sermons via male and female preachers whose mission was to restrict religion to the hijab and the beard."

She proceeds that Saudi feminism calls for women to be "fully eligible citizens who follow the laws of the state not that of their guardians and tribes."

On being asked why Saudi women have not been appointed ministers, judges or governors of a Saudi region, al-Yahya declared: "Remember, until now women don’t have the right to leave prison after the end of a sentence. The Saudi woman is not given the right to marry herself off after reaching the legal age, and is conditioned to receive the approval of her guardian. Women have not gained their rights in the form of a post in the Council of Senior Scholars."

She continued: "It is unbelievable for us to see a man in a religious position speaking of religious affairs for women such as the ruling pertaining to menstruation."

Al-Yahya directed a message to the feminists currently behind bars in Saudi prisons, declaring: "I am grateful for your struggle in the way of women’s rights and empowerment in your country. You have chosen the route of struggle inside Saudi Arabia despite your knowledge of the dangers that you would face, while others have chosen to struggle outside of the homeland for woman rights, so that they do not end up in prison without a charge."

Al-Yahya, who lives outside of the Kingdom, noted that she has been "threatened with the same fate of Loujain Alhathloul by the Public Prosecution's investigator in the Saudi Al-Qassim region."

It should be noted that Loujain Alhathloul is a Saudi activist who has been detained since May 2018 for calling for the right of women to drive in Saudi Arabia. Reports by human rights bodies have revealed details she was subjected to beatings in solitary confinement, as well as electric shocks, waterboarding, lashing on her thighs, and forced embraces and kissing – as well as being threatened with rape and murder in the presence of the previous consultant in the royal court Saoud al-Qahtani, the right-hand man of Mohammed Bin Salman – an allegation confirmed by Alhathloul's brother Walid and her sister Alya'a.

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