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.
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Some see in the arrests and smear campaign against the activists an attempt to erase the history of hard-fought grassroots struggle by women demanding reforms. Others have suggested that the arrests were a tactic by the crown prince to appease more conservative elements in Saudi society who may be upset by the erosion of religious authority, including the reining in of the religious police.