Monday, March 24, 2014

Women driving: Don’t interfere in our domestic issues

Saudi journalist Sabria S. Jawhar writes in the Saudi English language daily, the Arab News on March 24, 2014. A link to the story is here,  and the text is pasted in below.

- Sabria S. Jawhar
US President Barack Obama during his visit to Saudi Arabia on March 28 is expected to defend the United States’ position on Iran, Syria and Egypt. America’s warmer relations with Iran, in particular, have affected the 70-year relationship between the two countries.

Obama’s abandonment of the Egyptian government, a vital Saudi ally, and his failure to intervene last fall when there was documented evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to kill civilians has angered the entire region.

America and Saudi Arabia have always enjoyed a close and binding relationship and it’s only now there has been some disagreements.

In view of the new developments, the Saudi government has taken the initiative to forge strong ties with non-western countries.

It’s quite a surprise when Amnesty International demonstrated breathtaking naiveté in an ill-considered campaign to get Obama raise women’s driving issue during his visit to the Kingdom. Amnesty International also wants Obama to meet with Saudi women who protested the driving ban last Oct. 26.

Here we have two countries warily circling each other following profound changes in American foreign policy, which could conceivably alter their future relationship for decades to come, and the human rights group feels the timing is perfect to play dirty.

Of course there is no religious justification for banning Saudi women from driving. We also know now that Saudi society either accepts or is indifferent to women getting behind the wheel. If Oct. 26 has taught us anything, the driving ban is a government position. I have said many times in this column that I and most of the women I know want the right to drive whether we actually get behind the wheel or not.

But the tone-deaf Amnesty International thinks it’s prudent for Obama to raise women’s driving issue. Here’s the point I see: At the precise moment that Obama needs to bridge the obvious gap between Saudi Arabia and his administration, the world’s largest and most respected human rights organization wants to thrust an obscene gesture right in Saudis’ faces.

The human rights group argues that Saudi women would “benefit from global solidarity.” While Saudi women’s social media campaign has certainly publicized their efforts, the impact of global solidarity is questionable.

Amnesty International consistently ignores that Saudis will not under any circumstances accept the imposition of a foreign government’s will on Saudi Arabia. Any foreign agenda will be rejected. Even many supporters of the women driving issue will not accept external intervention. Our pride and dignity preclude such interference and only Saudis will effect change.

Yes, the world needs to know that we want our rights guaranteed in Islam, but having heads of state exert external pressure on domestic issues smack of stupidity. Saudi Arabia certainly hasn’t indulged in putting pressure on the French government to lift its niqab ban or Switzerland’s minaret ban. Saudi Arabia also hasn’t made efforts to curb the rise in power of anti-Muslim political parties. Yet Amnesty International sees fit to interfere in domestic issues here.

If Saudi Arabia had a track record of bowing to international scrutiny, then maybe such a plan would work. But really, since when has the Saudi government ever expressed the slightest concern over what any western country says about Saudi women driving?

Driving advocates have myriad tools available to wage their campaign, not the least of which is social media. Applying pressure to President Obama to join in the campaign will backfire. Such a campaign also seriously misreads the status of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

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