“Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar,” Senator John McCain has publicly stated numerous times. He is not alone. Many American elected officials regularly praise Saudi Arabia as one of its “greatest Gulf-State allies,” also referencing America’s “Qatari friends.”
However, these “friends” are among the world’s worst human rights offenders. Under Shari’a law, Saudi women are prohibited from:
- Going out unaccompanied in public. Women must be accompanied by a male guardian (a mahram) once they leave their home. Imagine “being allowed” to shop, run errands, or see a doctor– only with an “approved” chaperone. If violated, women face strict punishment. As The Guardian explains, “freedom of movement” causes women to become “vulnerable to sin.”
- Opening a bank account. Wives must first receive their husband’s permission. Daughters, their father’s permission.
- Driving. If women drove automobiles their presence would “undermine social values.” Amnesty International reports that women who supported the recent “Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the prohibition on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities, who warned that women drivers would face arrest. Some were arrested but released after a short period.”
- Dressing “indecently.” When going out, women are required to always wear an abaya, a long, black cloak, and a head scarf. According to Arab News, the Shoura Council (the king’s advisory body) recently ruled that the women should wear “modest” clothes and should not “show off their beauty;” meaning, not wear any makeup.
- Interacting with men in public. Women and men enter public buildings through separate entrances. Public transportation, parks, gyms, pools, and beaches are all segregated by two genders only: male and female. If women and men do interact, they are charged and punished for committing a crime with varying penalties.
- Competing as athletes. Unless a female athlete receives the required permission to compete in a competition, and are accompanied by a male guardian, they must also wear “Sharia-compliant” uniforms and cover their hair. Despite this, however, Saudi clerics still call women athletes “prostitutes.”
- Trying on clothes/undressing in store dressing rooms. To do so even behind closed doors in public is scandalous.
- Reading uncensored fashion magazines.
- Entering a cemetery.
- Purchasing a Barbie doll. Unless it’s a Fullah.
If America’s Gulf-state friends are as praiseworthy as U.S. senators suggest, why not send their mothers, wives, and daughters to live there? Why not suggest that American women also benefit from the way in which Saudi women are treated?
Why not prohibit American women from driving, having bank accounts, shopping, reading fashion magazines, burying their dead, and wearing make-up?
In addition to these restrictions, Amnesty International’s 2014-2015 Report on Human Rights Violations states that the Saudi government has:
“Severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and cracked down on dissent, arresting and imprisoning critics, including human rights defenders. Many received unfair trials before courts that failed to respect due process.
“New legislation effectively equated criticism of the government and other peaceful activities with terrorism. Authorities clamped down on online activism and intimidated activists and family members who reported human rights violations.
“Torture of detainees was reportedly common; courts convicted defendants on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions’ and sentenced others to flogging. Women faced discrimination in law and practice, and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence.
“Authorities [also] made extensive use of the death penalty and carried out dozens of public executions.”
Saudi women and girls are systematically legally and culturally discriminated against. Under Shari’a law, women have subordinate legal status to men, as defined in the Qur’an Surah IV (Women), which establishes guidelines for marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Saudi women are rarely protected from sexual and other violence. Amnesty International reports that domestic violence is endemic to Saudi culture.
Yet, Americans are to “thank God for the Saudis.”