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Are Saudi Women Next?

LONDON – The unexpected visibility and assertiveness of women in the revolutions unfolding across the Arab world – in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and elsewhere – has helped propel what has become variously known as the “Arab awakening” or “Arab Spring.” Major changes have occurred in the minds and lives of women, helping them to break through the shackles of the past, and to demand their freedom and dignity.

Since January 2011, images of millions of women demonstrating alongside men have been beamed around the world by television journalists, posted on YouTube, and splashed on the front pages of newspapers. One saw women from all walks of life marching in hope of a better future, for themselves and for their countries.

They appeared prominently – eloquent and outspoken, marching daily, holding caricatures of dictators and chanting calls for democratic change. They walked, bussed, traveled in carts, telephoned and tweeted with compatriots, motivated in part by social demands – above all for their own empowerment.

The contrast between this dynamic space for open protest and Saudi Arabia could hardly be starker. Saudi women find themselves living in a petrified system. Faces of the royal family are seen everywhere; the faces of women are shrouded, forcibly hidden.