Bayan Mahmoud al-Zahran became the first Saudi woman to take centre stage as a lawyer, when she appeared before the General Court in Jidda for the first time in November 2013, to defend a client. She had been working for years as a legal consultant and had represented dozens of people in criminal and civil cases and in family disputes.
al-Jubeir has been centre stage in his country’s row with its neighbour, Qatar. With the Saudi monarch busy reshuffling the line of succession and government positions, al-Jubeir has been travelling to Western cities to make a case for the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, which started as a request for Qatar to halt its alleged support for ‘extremism and terrorism’ but has since expanded beyond the region.
Khalid Alkhudair has pushed for additional legislation that will make it easier for women to enter the workforce, such as mandatory maternity leave and onsite nurseries for firms that employ 50 women or more. However, barriers to women’s employment remain, including the continuing ban on women driving.
The prince is known for his business empire, philanthropy and for being the wealthiest man in the Middle East on Forbes’ billionaires list. Unlike other Saudi princes, bin Talal is self-made, meaning that he used his inherited wealth and royal privilege to build his business empire and invest around the globe
At a time when the increasingly powerful Saudi crown prince is promoting his openness to economic and some social reforms, al-Nafjan and other activists are fighting for women’s rights that go beyond the lifting of the driving ban. Yet their arrest is a clear sign that further improvements in women’s rights are a long way off.
The arrest comes at the same time that Saudi Arabia has detained a number of prominent women’s rights activists, ironically just ahead of the date set to lift the ban on women driving in the kingdom. The arrests of both the activists and al-Rashid have provoked an outcry from rights groups and a statement of concern from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but so far international action has been limited.
The arrest came after al-Hawali published a book critical of the Saudi royal family. Titled Muslims and Western Civilization, the book largely denounces the West. However, it contains a chapter implying that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also referred to as MBS) is on course for a disaster. It also criticizes the ruling family for ‘wasting funds on fake projects’, calls MBS’ cosy relationship with Israel a ‘betrayal’ and condemns his rapprochement with the United States, United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Through her personal situation, Badawi became a symbol of anti-male guardianship’s advocacy in Saudi Arabia, and is considered to be one of the “first women to petition Saudi authorities to allow women to drive, vote and run in municipal elections.” However, Women’s rights activists are perceived as dissident voices that defy MBS’ authority and portrayed as “traitors” in high-profile campaigns in Saudi media outlets and on social media, although they bring no immediate danger to the authorities.
Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS) saw the elderly sheikh as more of a threat than an asset to his rule. On 9 September 2017, MBS ordered the arrest of al-Ouda for posting a tweet that read: ‘May God harmonize between their hearts for the good of their people’ – an apparent call for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. A year after his arrest, al-Ouda has been charged with 37 crimes, including spreading discord and incitement against the ruler.
The arrests were a matter of “national security”, said Princess Reema, adding that she did not want to comment further, in part because she knew the families of some of the arrested women. Regarding women’s rights, however, she went on to say, “I actually do have a family that will allow me to be mobile and dynamic, but that is not the reality for a lot of women. And until it’s the reality for a lot of women, I think we need to keep pushing forward.”
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