Women thought Mohammed bin Salman was a blessing to Saudi Arabia, he is the opposite.
The mask has dropped off Mohammad bin Salman. With the Jamal Khashoggi killing, the Saudi prince has proved that he does not believe in anyone’s right to express themselves. He does not believe in democracy. The US Senate introduced a resolution last week to hold MBS, as he is known, complicit in the murder of The Washington Post journalist Khashoggi.
Before all of this, the handsome crown prince looked like a blessing for the oppressed women of Saudi Arabia; or at least I thought so. Mohammed bin Salman provided women with some human dignity without putting them through the meat-grinders of religion and patriarchy. When women were given the right to drive in Saudi Arabia in June this year, I thought he’d now dismantle the anti-women laws little by little. I had bowed my head in respect and watched in wonder how in a hardline fundamentalist country like Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman still became modern at heart and began to work for equality. I praised him everywhere. May be Mohammad bin Salman was bringing in a new dawn. Earlier this year, he had said in an interview that women can choose what they want to wear (as long as it is ‘respectful’ of course). Such a statement has never been pronounced from the Royal Palace! But doesn’t deeper examination reveal these as gimmicks made for public consumption? Or intended to fool the world and media? An abaya is still mandatory for women in Saudi Arabia. Recently, some Saudi women protested the lack of right of going out without the abaya by wearing it inside-out. The women were reminded quite sternly that no rights would be gained by protests or revolution. The feminists were also told that the right to drive was not achieved through protests by Saudi women, but only because the Saudi royals had taken the decision.
Just a few days before receiving the right to drive, several women who protested for the right were arrested. Some were released; but the women who demanded the repeal of the law that forbids any woman to step out of the country without a male guardian or permission from one, still remain incarcerated. They may even be jailed for up to 20 years. But how many women will MBS arrest? Hundreds, thousands?
Last year, a few writers and intellectuals had criticised the political ideology of Mohammad bin Salman. He sent at least 30 writers-intellectuals to jail for that reason. Saudi writer and activist Raif Badawi has been flogged, imprisoned. He wrote in his Facebook page that he does not believe in god. His punishment? Thousand lashes and 10 years in prison. Progressive people all over the world have joined the movement for Raif’s release. But nothing moves Mohammed bin Salman. If he were a decent man, he’d have released Raif and many other free-thinkers, feminists, secularists and rationalists
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi escaped the country for fear of imprisonment. In his columns in The Washington Post, Khashoggi fearlessly criticised Mohammad bin Salman’s policies – severing diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar, relieving Lebanon’s PM Saad Hari of power, taking action against whoever in the country might have a difference of opinion. Khashoggi went to Turkey, walked into the Saudi embassy and disappeared into thin air. Who killed him, what killed him; these questions kept the world busy while our modern, progressive, social reformer Saudi prince was taking shelter behind one lie after another, lest someone suspects him. The CIA’s personnel have allegedly revealed that the order to kill him came from Mohammad bin Salman himself.
There are no more illusions to be had about MBS. What rights could the man give women when he did not have a shred of faith in human rights? Answer: None whatsoever. Saudi Arabia is barbaric anyway; it beheads people without giving convicts any opportunity to reform themselves. When it comes to cruelty, Saudi Arabia tops all.
Mohammad bin Salman gave women the right to drive possibly only because of pressure from the world. But he didn’t give women the permission to wear clothes of their choice, didn’t give women the right to make their own decisions, didn’t give women the right to converse or mingle with unrelated men, and didn’t give women the right to travel unaccompanied by a male guardian. Women in Saudi Arabia are not going to get their rights, at least not under Mohammad bin Salman.
How long can America and Donald Trump turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia in order to save their relationship of oil and weapons? The two have joined together to devastate the helpless people of Yemen.
Muhammad bin Salman believes in autocracy, not in democracy; he believes in brutality, not in tolerance. Women have nothing to gain from him.
The struggle for women’s rights will have to be continued by women themselves. Protests by one or two do not work. Hundreds and thousands of women and men have to join hands together in the movement for social change.
Jamal Khashoggi’s last words before being murdered allegedly were, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”. It should ring in our ears every time we praise Mohammed Bin Salman.
Taslima Nasreen is a celebrated author and commentator.