Tariq A. Al Maeena
ago, Neil Armstrong, an astronaut aboard the US space rocket Apollo 11 uttered
those iconic words — “...one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”
— as he first stepped on the moon. It was a defining moment for the world as
another distant frontier, the moon, had been breached. This gave many the hope
and aspiration of more challenges to overcome, and not just in the field of
Arabia, we have had our defining moment a few days ago when King Salman Bin
Abdul Aziz signed into law a proposal forwarded by the cabinet to do away with
the need of adult Saudi women seeking permission to get a passport through the
approval of their male guardians.
obviously not as grand as conquering the moon, but ask any Saudi woman and she
will tell you that it feels no less.
distinctly gives the woman more rights than before, a trend that has been put
into effect since the Saudi crown prince began a series of moves through his
grand vision of transforming the country from near-medieval times and bringing
it up to par with the 21st century.
Arabia, it must be explained, was a country which had been held hostage by a
severe strain of religious extremism that sprouted strongly right after the
siege on the Grand Mosque in Makkah back in 1979.
storming of the Great Mosque by a group of 200 to 300 young men led by Juhayman
Al Otaibi and the subsequent siege, which lasted for two week and hundreds were
killed as a result was an early warning sign that religious extremism was
taking a foothold in the country. Members of Saudi Arabia’s hardline Islamist
community were being extremely disturbed by signs of increasing liberalisation
following the oil boom and the influx of petrodollars.
Peculiar Series of Events
corporal in the Saudi armed forces encourage by the revolution in neighbouring
Iran, which saw a progressive if ruthless leader, the Shah, deposed by a
religious cleric earlier in the year harboured similar visions for himself as
he set about recruiting others with similar hard-core fundamentalist concepts.
decried the state’s granting of women the opportunity to work and appear publicly
and be seen on national TV. It was contrary to their religious beliefs and they
set to bring change in the only way they felt they could, and hoped that the
incident would spark an uprising against the government by other like-minded
for the rest of Saudi Arabi, that did not materialise and they were soon
captured and many of the ring leaders sentenced to death. It did however,
create a peculiar series of events which saw the kingdom regress in terms of
liberalisation and moving forward. After the dust had settled following the
siege, the country’s leading clerics who had initially denounced the siege now
recommended that Islam should be strictly enforced to prevent such future
occurrences, and given more powers, they proceeded to inject a brand of Islam
that indeed held the country hostage for decades.
term those years a living hell as many aspects of daily life were deemed
sinful. The bulk of sin was directed against anything having to do with women,
and female guardianship took a firm hold. Women had few rights that they could
exercise on their own unless they could convince their male guardian otherwise.
some women were subjected to a life of oppression, cruelty, and near-slavery
with no voice or means to change things for themselves.
began to change when Mohammad Bin Salman, the young son of the king became the
crown prince. Aware of the historical events that led the kingdom from the path
of progress to oppressive Talibanism, he publicly declared his disdain for such
state of affairs and vowed to bring the country up to speed. This included
enforcing changes that gave women more and more rights and freedom.
changes came in small increments forcing the hardliners to notice and shrug
away, knowing they were too powerless to do anything else. And the young public
loved it. Entertainment, films, women driving, women working without gender
segregation laws has really opened many doors in this country for a better
future. And contrary to the loud exhortations in the past by clerics blasting
away on loudspeakers during Friday prayer sermons, the country has not slid
into a mire of sin and immorality.
contrary, it has become a better place to live in. Go ask any woman.
Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi
Source: The Gulf News