“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is putting women in the driving seat — and so are we.”
That’s how Vogue Arabia described its June cover, which features a glamorous woman behind the wheel of a classic car, parked in the desert.
But the problem for some has been which woman the magazine decided to put in the drivers seat in an issue that “celebrates the women of the kingdom and their wide-reaching achievements,” but makes no mention of the country’s most recent crackdown on women’s rights activists.
Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah al-Saud — one of the late King Abdullah’s 20 daughters — sits behind the wheel, even as some prominent female activists who fought for the right for Saudi women to drive remain locked behind bars.
In mid-May, at least 11 activists were arrested and labeled “traitors” by the Saudi government, a move that surprised many as the country is just weeks away from allowing women to drive. Some of the activists have been released, but others remain detained.
The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, announced in September 2017 that the notoriously conservative nation was lifting the ban on female drivers as part of a reform effort. Saudi women have long been restricted in most aspects of public life, from what they can wear to where they can travel, in part because of the country’s strict guardianship laws.
On June 24, Saudi women will legally be able to drive for the first time. But critics say the Vogue coverage fails to highlight some Saudi women whose activism helped draw international attention to the issue, and who now face persecution.
The issue does feature Manal al-Sharif, one of the Saudi activists who took part in the 2011 protests against the restrictions and was later arrested for the action, but does not mention the latest arrests.
Twitter users were swift in their reaction, calling out Vogue Arabia for what some saw as an oversight.
Others photoshopped faces of two detained women’s rights activists, Aziza al-Yousef and Loujain Hathloul, over the face of Princess Hayfa. Both women are still being held by Saudi authorities, according to Human Rights Watch.
Others voiced support for Vogue Arabia, including Ms. Sharif, the activist featured in it. She said she was happy that her “country women are being celebrated” — but also urged readers not to forget the detained activists.