Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive … but not just right now

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SHAFAQNA – Behold! The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia finally conceded some ground to its women folk by granting them the privilege to drive … How grand an achievement if we consider that the kingdom has yet to determine women’s status as to their humanity.

And then of course there is this open debate on whether women’s brain can sustain the strain driving would require on their mental faculties. I wish my sarcasm was not holding a mirror to the dystopia that is the infernal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia … yes infernal as in it has dedicated its wealth to fanning, promoting, funding, and architecting all shapes of abominable against those it deems lesser.

Earlier this September Saad al-Hijri, head of fatwas (legal opinions) in Saudi Arabia’s Asir governorate, stated that women should not drive because their brains shrink to a quarter the size of a man’s when they go shopping. I grant you the man was suspended, but one must ask whether his admonition was so that decorum would be preserved, or a real sense of outrage.

Bearing in mind that Riyadh still considers decapitation, and flogging – only to name a few, somewhat of a national sport, I reserve judgement as to what really irked the  kingdom in relation to that statement.

More to the point: how devolute and perverse must Saudi Arabia’s religious institutions be for a cleric, a man lauded for his legal mind, to utter such nonsense?

As of Tuesday evening, and upon strict instructions from King Salman Saudi women have been allowed to hold a driving licence without the need for male supervision or approval. Amen to that the world cried out!

Following the decree, women will no longer need permission from a legal guardian to get a licence and will not need a guardian in the car when they drive, said the new Saudi ambassador to Washington DC, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

“I think our leadership understands our society is ready,” he told reporters.

Only that’s not exactly true … those pesky caveats will seriously hamper women’s ability, if not to drive, to drive far enough to exercise real freedom of movement. As the old adage goes: ‘the Devil is in the details.’ For example, women will only be allowed to drive within a radius of 7 kilometres according to a strict timetable confirmed a right activist in Riyadh over the phone. No road trips for Saudi women just yet!

Let’s just remember that the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum ranked the kingdom 141 out of 144 countries on gender parity – hardly an achievement.

But yes fine, let’s all marvel at such a historical breakthrough … I can understand that however minuscule a concession, King Salman did in fact concede to pressure, and rights activists want to celebrate.

If only we were discussing the right to religious freedom!

If only the Kingdom could concede to people the right to their humanity instead of running an oppressive farmhouse.

If only the kingdom was not carpet-bombing Yemen while manning an unprecedented humanitarian blockade against the poorest, most hard-done by nations in not just the region, but the world?

But sure let’s clap the kingdom for being so very progressive and indulgent in their magnanimity. Are we all suffering from the stockholm syndrome?

Let me put it to you another way: if Daesh was to decree that it would no longer burn people alive would that be considered a step forward? I think not!

Why are we so keen to congratulate the fountainhead of all things radicals, and not be repelled by our own hypocrisy? I’m sorry to say but Saudi Arabia’s women driving little stunt does not impress me in the least – even less so if we consider that women will have to wait a good 6 months to exercise this right, provisioning restrictions will not make the decree redundant.

Of course the US state department welcomed the move as “a great step in the right direction.”

I’m sure such a ‘great step forward’ will be much comfort for those Shia communities in Qatif whose homes were torn apart, and those prisoners of conscience awaiting beheading.

What about those holy grounds which remain under Wahhabism oppression? What about those pilgrims during the Hajj pilgrimage who continue to brave the savagery of Wahhabi clerics to hold true to their traditions?

Will such a ‘breakthrough’ offer respite?

Let’s not legitimise the tyranny of Al Saud by celebrating the scraps they distribute so that our collective anger would be assuaged.

By Catherine Shakdam – Director Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies

This article was published first on TeleSur

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