The Guardian Advocates Saudi Exceptionalism


The Guardian is my favorite newspaper. It often has articles that I find informative and thought-provoking. Every now and then, however, the paper makes an editorial decision that I find inexplicable. On Saturday, November 2, they ran an article by a Saudi Arabian man named Ahmed Abdel-Raheem titled Word to the west: many Saudi women oppose lifting the driving ban. In it he writes:

    If you read any western coverage of the recent protest of Saudi Arabia’s female driving ban, you probably thought, “finally, the kingdom is waking up”. But the problem is, that’s not what many Saudis think, including Saudi women.

Raheem goes on to claim that he conducted an informal survey of female college students in Saudi Arabia. He says:

    To my surprise, 134 (out of 170) respondents said female driving is not a necessity and that it opens the door for sexual harassment and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving. Some also fear that it gives husbands a chance to betray and agree with the assertion that it creates sedition in society.

That’s an interesting word there: sedition. Not long ago Saudi Arabia helped crush an uprising in neighboring Bahrain. I’d be curious to learn about the social backgrounds of these women, particularly if any of them come from families connected with the government. Raheem quotes one respondent as saying:

    Honestly, I don’t like women to drive. This will create sedition … I agree that there are already different kinds of sedition we see every day, but the right place for a woman is her house; this will really save her from what is happening in the outside world.

Sedition seems to be a big concern among some people. Raheem then writes:

    This stresses that the continuous attempts from the west to impose its values elsewhere are pointless. Western feminism is not only unlikely to take hold in countries like Saudi Arabia, it is not what many women in the kingdom want. Consider what Amany Abdulfadl, member of the Egyptian Centre for Monitoring Women’s Priorities, said in a 2007 piece in Al-Ahram Weekly: the west’s ”definition of equality cannot work in our Arab world because neither will our women find jungles to cut wood in, nor our men ever have breasts to feed babies.’

You see, the best way to make a point is with a non-sequitur.

    People in Saudi Arabia have their own moral views and needs. What works in other societies may not fit in Saudi (sic), and the reverse. In short, instead of launching campaigns to change the driving laws in the kingdom, the west should first ask Saudi women if they really want this or not, and western countries should accept the result, even if it’s not to their liking.

The next day – Sunday, November 3 – The Guardian ran an aricle titled Saudi Arabia ‘arrests Kuwaiti woman for driving diabetic father to hospital’. It tells us:

    The English-language Kuwait Times said that the woman had been driving in an area just over the border, with her father in the passenger seat, when she was stopped by police. The woman, who said that her diabetic father could not drive and needed to be taken to hospital for treatment, was being held in custody pending an investigation, the paper said, citing police.

Yet another reason why women shouldn’t be allowed to drive is that they might be tempted to drive their diabetic fathers to the emergency room instead of letting them die. This might work in other countries, but it might not fit in Saudi Arabia. (And, who knows, it could lead to sedition.)

According to his bio, Raheem currently lives in Poland, where the women are allowed to drive, and the men do not have breasts. (I swear, this is true.)

5 Responses to “The Guardian Advocates Saudi Exceptionalism”

  1. James Robb Says:

    Good post. But I wonder why you tag it ‘Religion’. The Saudi authorities try to use religious justifications for their reactionary politics, for sure, but religion is not the issue here, only women’s rights. The women are probably Muslims as well. By characterising it as an issue of religion, I think you are making an unnecessary concession to the Saudi authorities, conceding their false claim to be speaking for true Muslims. For more on similar lines, see my post

    • The Spanish Prisoner Says:

      Thank you for the link. I found your article interesting. It was precisely because of some of the concerns you raised that I avoided using the word “Islam” in the article. Saudi Arabia is the only Muslim country that prohibits women from driving. Why is this? I don’t know enough about that country to try to answer that question, but it is something worth investigating.

      • James Robb Says:

        Absolutely – my quibble about the tag was a very minor matter. I found your article interesting for the insights it provided into the thinking of those opposed to women driving in Saudi Arabia. The tendency to see ‘sedition’ on all sides is characteristic of an extremely brittle regime, where the slightest pressure for a tiny reform looms as a challenge to the existence of the regime. Absolute monarchies are like that – and there are very few of them left in the world. That, I think, is the key to Saudi exceptionalism. One other absolute monarchy is the sultanate of Brunei, which recently announced that they are reintroducing sharia punishments such as amputations, flogging, and stoning.

        • The Spanish Prisoner Says:

          That’s an interesting point you make about how religious puritanism can be used for political control. Perhaps that is what is really happening in Saudi Arabia.

  2. Blog recommendations, for homeless leftists | Poumista Says:

    […] tweets here). He blogs most frequently onfilm, but also on politics. Two sample recent posts: this must-read post on the Guardian peddling disgraceful Saudi exceptionalism and apologetics for se…, this on the odious CounterPunch-hyped right-wing crank Craig Paul Roberts. In fact, the post-left […]

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