What Saudi Veils Cannot Conceal

It is not accidental that many Saudi men abuse women physically, mentally and sexually and get away with it.

saudiAs soon as an ad No More Violence” against Saudi women appeared in Saudi media, it became an instant global event. Newspapers, TV and radio stations picked up the news from social media and began an extensive discussion as if Saudi women had been emancipated from the chains of institutionalized political, economic, religious and social oppression, stigmatization and segregation. Had an ad of this nature appeared in any other country, it would not have made a ripple because in most countries violence against women or any segment of society is prohibited by law. Not so in Saudi Arabia where violence against women is government policy.

Physical abuse is barbaric and repulsive as are the Saudi institutionalized mental, emotional and financial abuses practiced against women. It is not accidental that many Saudi men abuse women physically, mentally and sexually and get away with it. These cruel practices are not only permissible under the Saudi judicial system, but encouraged by the men who created and implement the vile religious laws. The system grants men control over all aspects of women’s lives, movements and livelihoods as exemplified by the “Male Guardian System” which gives men all-encompassing powers over women’s affairs. Women cannot travel, register in schools, get a job, deliver babies in a hospital or even receive life-saving medication without a male relative’s permission.

While initiating any discussion regarding the multitude of crippling taboos imposed on most Saudi women is positive, the reality on the ground remains bleak. In a recent survey by “World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, Saudi Arabia ranks 131st out of 135 countries when it comes to opportunities for women.”

Another survey conducted by courageous Saudi social science professor Dr. Lateefa Abdul Lateef discovered that approximately half of Saudi women are physically beaten by their fathers, husbands and brothers.

According her, “The study showed that nearly half those covered by social security and more than a third of the female students at the university are beaten up at home.” The research indicated that urban males are more abusive of women than traditional and rural area dwellers. This is a slap in the face of the ruling elites and their defenders and apologists at home and abroad who blame tradition and religion for the system’s oppression, segregation and marginalization of women. It appears that the system’s severe comprehensive social and political repression of urbanized men manifests in their acting out against women (and children.)

Tragically, the Saudi government’s sanctioned abuse of women is rarely criticized by American and other Western officials

Not only do democratically elected officials in the West look the other way while the Saudi rulers prey on women, but they and many of their prominent educational institutions and businesses support and praise the Saudi oligarchs for being loyal allies and partners in the “War on Terrorism.” Many Saudi men and women analysts, human rights activists and political reformers are bewildered by the West’s myopic and hypocritical attitude and practice regarding women’s rights and its lack of support for human rights and pro-democracy activists in Saudi Arabia.

These Saudi men and women activists’ disillusionment with the behavior of Western democracies sprang from their intimate knowledge of the nature of their country’s rulers and their duplicitous religious-based policies, as well as the regime’s disdain for political pluralism and contemptuous attitude toward individual liberty, the values that made the West the envy of most of the world’s populations.

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Pro-democracy Saudis wonder why the West not only continues to ensure the autocratic ruling family’s security, but to strengthen its ties with a system that sanctions violence against women, as well as breeding terrorists and religious extremists who target the empowering foundations of Western democracies and commit unspeakable crimes against innocent non-combatant Western citizens as exemplified by the 9/11 attack on the US and July 7, 2005 attack on Britain.

Additionally, as has been intensely discussed and widely revealed in media throughout the world, the Saudi regime exports and finances “…terrorism and Sunni extremism worldwide.” For example, according to US military generals and other sources, the majority of foreign suicide bombers who terrorize innocent Iraqis and killed American service men and women in Iraq hailed from Saudi Arabia, as did 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked the US on September 11, 2001 (9/11.)

The autocratic Saudi ruling dynasty does not recognize or permit the non-religious rule of law which modernity demands to protect women and children from a male-dominated misogynistic system where all powers lie in a handful of geriatric princes whose rule is legitimized by another handful of religious zealots whose privileged lifestyle and powers depend on the continued rule of an autocratic monarchy, the Saudi ruling family.

The Saudi regime and its institutions justify their malevolent treatment and marginalization of women by blaming tradition and religion as the root causes of the government’s politically and economically driven policies. They use their controlled media and some of their embedded domestic female defenders to convince their captive population and the international community, especially the West, that Saudi society and its nomadic traditions are to blame for maltreatment of women. Not only that, but the system’s beneficiaries and apologists condemn courageous advocates of women’s rights like Petroleum Engineer Wajeha Al-Huwaider of Eastern Saudi Arabia.

As long as the autocratic Saudi monarchy insists on blaming tradition and religion for its denigration and abuses of women and as long as the West continues to be complicit in this charade, one can expect a continuation of inhumane polices that also nurture religious extremism and terrorism which the Saudi officials overtly disclaim.

It begs the question why the West would continue to support such a system at a time when many Saudi men and women are arbitrary arrested, imprisoned and harshly sentenced because they demand political reforms and social justice, reflecting current and irreversible trends in the Arab World. Would it not be prudent for the West to connect with our natural allies in Saudi society who share our democratic values? They will have vested interest in preserving our common objectives, including freedom of choice as well as mutual strategic and economic successes.

Dr. Ali Alyami is the founder and executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, CDHR, in Washington, DC. CDHR focuses on promoting peaceful and incremental democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia, including empowerment of women, religious freedom, free flow of information, free movement, free press, privatization of government industries, free elections, non-sectarian constitution, and codified rule of law, transparency and accountability. Read other articles by Ali.

  • LP

    Thanks for shining a light on this horrific issue. I did not know that such abuse was not only not prohibited and “traditional” but government policy!