Amal Zahid is a renowned Saudi columnist and writer. I used to
read her articles as a kid in Sayidaty * (my mother used to be an avid reader of that magazine during the 90’s). Currently she heads the women’s committee of Madinah Literature Club and writes regularly for Al-Watan daily, which boasts a refreshing roster of liberal leaning writers.
Two of her recent articles especially worth mentioning because they touch on some usual issues from unusual angles, namely: the Commission and women’s driving.
So while the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice can be easily criticized for many of the lunacies they commit, Amal Zahid chooses to take a bird’s eye view by asking: what’s the point of virtue if it is forcibly imposed on people? As she correctly notes, this only reinforces the hypocrisy that has become so common and even acceptable in this country. It seems that it is no longer weird or frowned upon to see many Saudis who lead a double life: religious, conservative and conformist on the outside; another one that is wild and extreme when they are away from the watchful eye of society.
The second article did not even make it to the newspaper. As I previously said here, women’s driving and mahram are off-limits to the local media now. But as you probably already know, censorship is no longer effective. Only a few hours after she was told about the ban, the article was promptly published online on several websites. Oh, the beauty of the web!
Amal Zahid believes, like I do, that it would only take a decision by the King to put this whole issue behind us. “It is only then that they will shut up and submit,” she said about the opponents. Zahid also wonders how this issue will be viewed by the many young women, including her own daughter, who currently study abroad as part of the large scholarships program launched by the government few years ago.
I think it will be interesting to see what would happen with tens of thousands of Saudi students once they come back home after years of living abroad. A friend of mine told me not to hold my breath because when those sent in the 70’s on scholarships came back they did not do much to reform their country. Nothing happened. What would you think this time will be any different, my friend asked.
The answer is women. The current foreign scholarships program include a big number of girls, and I believe they will be the engine of change. It is hard to imagine that these young women will settle for the restrictions unfairly imposed on them here after the kind of freedom and independence they enjoyed abroad.
Unlike Saudi men who are not bothered by the hypocrisy of leading two different lifestyles between abroad and at home, Saudi women will be determined more than ever to gain their rights and make the changes needed to reform this nation. Women activists have always complained that their calls don’t echo among regular women here because they are so domesticated and blinded into believing that their life is perfect and perfectly normal. Things will be different when the scholarships girls return home.
Also by Amal Zahid:
* Correction: Amal told me that it was her cousin, Ommaima, who used to write for Sayidaty. Before writing for al-Watan, Amal wrote in al-Jazirah and Asharq al-Awsat.