From Canada the 18 year says women in Saudi Arabia are treated "as objects". She has been assigned bodyguards for fear of attacks. Professor in Cairo: "An episode that could repeat itself". The role of social media is fundamental. But something is changing in Riyadh, they are not just superficial reforms. Male guardianship destined to fall.
Cairo (AsiaNews) – In her first meeting with press in Canada, where she was granted refugee status following her flight from Saudia Arabia, 18-year-old Saudita Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, says her priorities are learning English and beginning a new life, leaving behind her a past in which women are “treated like objects”. She added that her flight first to Thailand, where she was granted UN protection as a refugee, was fueled by the conviction she had “nothing to lose.”
"They locked me up for six months - she says - because I cut my hair. I suffered violence, my father and my brother beat me." After promising to fight for freedom and rights, the young woman clarified that she intends to lead a normal life. However, the humanitarian agency in Toronto has flanked her with a bodyguard, for fear of possible revenge attacks from Riyadh.
AsiaNews reached out to Muslim intellectual Nehal El Naggar. Egyptian, Professor of Islamic studies at the American University of Cairo and a leading figure in the local academic world, for her view on Rahaf,’s story, the wide coverage it has been given in international press, the role of social media and the status of women in the Arab world.
Can the story of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun set an example for other women in Saudi Arabia in their struggle for rights and freedoms? Could similar cases be repeated?
Yes, I think the story of Rahaf AL-Qunun could be a repeated example for other young women in Saudi Arabia or in other country or within a family where freedom is repressed and young women are deprived of their right for education. No one can foretell whether such an incident could happen in the near future or not.
What role did social media play? A Saudi diplomat said they should have seized her cell phone, not her passport ...
Definitely, the social media played a role in this specific case, as her tweets went viral, which made the world aware of her.
How does this testify to the ongoing repression of women, and their struggle for rights?
Women all over the world, in different degrees undergo repression, thus they are still fighting for their rights worldwide. Repression, generally, is a sign of weakness of any form of authority, not only of governments.
Professor, do you think that the reforms promoted by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia are real or just "superficial"?
I think that the reformist movement by Crown Prince MBS [the acronym with which the number two of the kingdom is identified] in Saudi Arabia is a real reformation, which will take some time to be totally implemented as any other reformation across time and across cultures.
Among these there is the "male guardianship": can this be overcome too?
I think male guardianship will eventually be overcome in Saudi Arabia.
In conclusion, in these years of Arab Springs, wars, extremisms and violence in the Middle East, has something changed for the woman?
Things have changed for men and women after the Arab Springs, not only for women. This change across nations was not restricted to gender.