The single most oppressed class of people in our modern world are women living under the massively repressive hand of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. Women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive, they cannot inherit property, they cannot petition for divorce nor, in the event of a divorce, gain custody of children. Women in Saudi Arabia may be legally beaten by their husbands and any female who brings dishonor on their family - such as by being raped - may well be beaten or worse. In courts, a woman's testimony is by law given half the weight of a man. And God help a Saudi woman should she be found outside of her home without the escort of a male family member. The Saudi tool of oppression is often as not the Saudi religious police. Their most iconic act of repression occurred a few years ago when they forced several young girls back into a schoolhouse that was on fire. The girls, who had run from the building without their hijabs, paid for that sin with their lives.
Today, there are tremors of change in the Saudi desert. It would appear that at least one Saudi woman has, one, stones worthy of our own civil rights icon, Rosa Parks, two, poor choice in men, and three, apparently a very good straight right. This from the Jerusalem Post:
It was a scene Saudi women’s rights activists have dreamt of for years.
When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition.
But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping.
A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix.
For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop.
According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.
“To see resistance from a woman means a lot,” Wajiha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist, told The Media Line news agency. “People are fed up with these religious police, and now they have to pay the price for the humiliation they put people through for years and years. This is just the beginning and there will be more resistance.”
“The media and the Internet have given people a lot of power and the freedom to express their anger,” she said. “The Hai’a are like a militia, but now whenever they do something it’s all over the Internet. This gives them a horrible reputation and gives people power to react.”
This story says very little about Saudi men, whether it be the woman's escort or the religious policeman whose ass the budding Ms. Parks apparently whooped. Heh.
But this is apparently not the only change taking place in Saudi Arabia. The same JP article documents some small changes being made by the current King of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah. He took over the kingship with a reputation as a reformer and - possibly the least corrupt of the House of Saud. That said, change has come slowly indeed as the King rules Arabia not by fiat, but by consensus with other members of the House of Saud. Nonetheless, some small change has come:
The decision last year by Saudi King Abdullah to open the kingdom’s first co-educational institution, with no religious police on campus, led to a national crises for Saudi Arabia’s conservative religious authorities, with the new university becoming a cultural proxy war for whether or not women and men should be allowed to mix publicly.
A senior Saudi cleric publicly criticized the gender mixing at the university and was summarily fired by the king. . . .
Last month, . . . members of the religious police in the northern province of Tabuk were charged with assaulting a young woman as she attempted to visit her son, in a move that marked an unprecedented challenge to the religious police’s authority.
"There is some sort of change taking place," Nadya Khalife, the Middle East women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, told The Media Line. "There is clearly a shifting mentality regarding to the male guardianship law and similar issues. More women are speaking out, there are changes within the government, there is a mixed university, the king was photographed with women, they want to allow women to work in the courts and there are changes within the justice ministry. So you can witness some kind of change unfolding but it’s not quite clear what’s happening and it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight."
In this most repressive of societies - the one that gave birth to the Wahhabi school of Islam that undergirds virtually all of Sunni terrorism - seeing a change to an even somewhat normalized society with equality for women would work a significant change. Let us hope that we are witnessing is a good first step - or uppercut, as the case may be.