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  A Virtual Revolution in Saudi Arabia

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Posted on February 20 2011 1:00 pm

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Originally published on February 14, 2011.

Yes, today there are protests in the streets of Iran, Egypt (again), Bahrain, Yemen, and Algeria. In the last few weeks, there were also street uprisings in Tunisia and Jordan. Iranian riot police are tear-gassing their own people in Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz. Egyptians are now demanding that Mubarak’s military give them jobs and money.

As I have noted before, the Egyptian women in the streets of Cairo were wearing severe hijab; some were wearing face veils. The men and women carried signs against Israel and America. But I saw no signs demanding women’s rights.

Thus, the real Arab and Muslim “revolution” is a virtual one. It has only just now appeared on the internet, more specifically, on Facebook, and was recently launched by Saudi Arabian women, some who still live in the Kingdom and others who live in exile, either elsewhere in the Middle East or in the West. The site is mainly in Arabic with some English.

One fan posts, in English: “Girls, after Egypt and Tunisia we can demand our rights.”

Another fan writes, also in English: “We all should take an action and stop being treated as slaves. We are free to choose our lives. My son was murdered because his father abused him so badly… I will never let this go… I will fight to death for my son’s right and all the abused children in my country Saudi Arabia. Where is the Saudi Human Rights? Why there is no justice in Saudi? Where does our money go?”

A third woman says, in English: “The root of it all is the male guardianship system, if we can get rid of that, we’re half way there. AUTONOMY over our own lives is key. The right to gain access to financial and medical services without having to attain permission first.”

I wrote about this new website yesterday, mainly to applaud the bravery of these women who know full well what can happen to them for demanding their rights. My understanding is that while the site is based outside of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi authorities cannot take it down, they can punish some of the individuals associated with it.

May this not happen.

The comments at this site in Arabic about what “rights” they want are, understandably, somewhat less fiery—although entirely serious and practical. Thus, a fourth woman writes in Arabic that she wants the Saudi King to:

  • Drop the requirement that women older than 18 be accompanied by a guardian
  • Open up more jobs and specialties to women
  • Ban child marriage
  • Pay attention to abused wives
  • Grant citizenship to the children of Saudi women
  • Grant women the right to drive

She suggests that “We need to publicize the issue; the more the word spreads the more powerful we’ll become.”

Another woman also in Arabic wants the King to:

  • “Grant women the absolute right to total independence from any guardian.”
  • “Open up all areas of study and all fields of employment to women without exception.”
  • Proclaim that “wearing an abaya should be a matter of choice and not a matter of law. “

Another woman, in Arabic, proclaims: “We do not want our rights as gifts and handouts; we want them as mandatory rights.”

Another, in Arabic, says that the King should “grant women the right to represent us in the national councils” and “open up the playing field so that women can assume positions of leadership in the country.” Another woman, also in Arabic, calls for “prison time, fines, and public shaming for those who are proven guilty of harassing women.” She also wants women to be “granted the right to be members of the King’s Consultative Assembly. “

The Facebook site has already been “liked” by nearly 400 people.

What is really going on?

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