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An incredible thing just happened in Saudi Arabia, but there’s a problem

Sunday - 07/10/2018 07:24
IT’S a kingdom of unimaginable riches which has made an incredible move. But there’s a troubling problem behind it.
Times are changing in Saudi Arabia.Source:istock
Times are changing in Saudi Arabia.Source:istock

AN INCREDIBLE thing has just happened in Saudi Arabia, but on closer inspection there’s a rather ironic and troubling problem behind it.

In a first for the kingdom, a woman has been appointed as the head of a bank. Lubna Al Olayan has just been announced as the chair of the new company, which is being formed from a merger between the Saudi British Bank and Alawwal Bank, BBCreports

Currently the head of a family business, Ms Olayan is a trailblazing figure in the finance industry. She studied in the US and was scored first place in the Forbes list of Middle East’s Most Influential Women for 2018.

The stunning move has come amid a much-publicised push to liberalise women’s roles under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Known as Saudi Vision 2030, change is seen as crucial to modernising the kingdom.

However, there’s clearly still a long way to go in achieving women’s rights. Because there’s a rather bizarre problem with their latest act; despite a woman about to become the head of a bank, females still can’t open or control a bank account.

Things are changing in Saudi Arabia, but how much does it really help women?
Things are changing in Saudi Arabia, but how much does it really help women?Source:Supplied

 

Lubna Al Olayan. Picture: Center for International Communication
Lubna Al Olayan. Picture: Center for International CommunicationSource:Supplied

There has been much excitement around changes to women’s rights in Saudi Arabia that have been unveiled this year. In June, a ban on women driving that had been in place since 1957 was finally lifted.

And last November, there was joy when the kingdom recognised yoga as a sport. Widely perceived as a Hindu spiritual practice, yoga was not officially permitted for decades in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam where all non-Muslim worship is banned.

A Saudi woman and her friends celebrate her first time driving on a main street of Khobar City.
A Saudi woman and her friends celebrate her first time driving on a main street of Khobar City.Source:AFP
 
Saudi female racing driver, Aseel Al Hamad prepares to drive for the first time in her home country.
Saudi female racing driver, Aseel Al Hamad prepares to drive for the first time in her home country.Source:Getty Images

However, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. The main concern around women’s rights stem from Saudi Arabia's guardianship system, which means that all women must have a male guardian who makes decisions for her.

The Human Rights Watch calls this “the most significant impediment to realising women’s rights in the country”.


 
 

So women can’t buy a car, obtain a passport, travel or get married without a male guardian’s permission, they also can’t get a coffee with a male friend or wear what they want.

“If you don’t have credit, if you don’t have money, your male guardian will be the one to decide whether you buy a car or not,” Rebecca Lindland, an analyst for Cox Automotive in the US who has studied the Saudi Arabian market, told CBS News.

Saudi women in the capital Riyadh.
Saudi women in the capital Riyadh.Source:AFP
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (R) attending the inauguration last month of a new high-speed railway linking Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest cities, at Jeddah Central Station.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (R) attending the inauguration last month of a new high-speed railway linking Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest cities, at Jeddah Central Station.Source:AFP

WOMAN FACES BRUTAL BEHEADING

Human Rights Watch said a recent crackdown on women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia had led to the arrest of at least 13 females under the pretext of maintaining national security.

In August, it was revealed activist Israa al-Ghomgham is facing a possible beheading, for participating in protest, “chanting slogans hostile to the regime” and recording protests for social media.

She has been languishing in jail for almost three years, and been denied access to a lawyer. She’s the first woman to face the death penalty for being involved in a protest.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Any execution is appalling, but seeking the death penalty for activists like Israa al-Ghomgham, who are not even accused of violent behaviour, is monstrous.

“Every day, the Saudi monarchy’s unrestrained despotism makes it harder for its public relations teams to spin the fairytale of ‘reform’ to allies and international business.”

Israa al-Ghomgham as a child.
Israa al-Ghomgham as a child.Source:Supplied

WRITER’S DISAPPEARANCE MAKES HEADLINES

There’s also a political storm brewing over the disappearance of a Saudi contributor to the Washington Post. 

Supporters have rallied outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul today calling for Jamal Khashoggi’s “release” despite Riyadh’s denials that he was being held there. He has not been seen since he went to the Saudi mission on Tuesday to receive an official document for his marriage.

The Turkish-Arab Media Association (TAM) organised a rally in front of the consulate for Khashoggi, a former government adviser who has been critical of some policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Riyadh’s intervention in the war in Yemen.

He had also criticised its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women’s rights activists after the lifting of the ban on women driving.

Nobel Prize winner Tawakkol Karman holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi while speaking to the media during a protest outside the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Nobel Prize winner Tawakkol Karman holds a poster of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi while speaking to the media during a protest outside the entrance to the Saudi Arabia Consulate on October 5 in Istanbul, Turkey.Source:Getty Images
 
Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi remains missing.
Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi remains missing.Source:AP

He has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since last year to avoid possible arrest.

The crown prince told Bloomberg that the journalist was not inside the consulate and said he was ready to allow Turkish authorities to search the building.

“We are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises,” he said, which is Saudi sovereign territory.

 

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with the Kingdom Tower visible.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with the Kingdom Tower visible.Source:istock
 

— With wires.

Source:

 Key: Saudi Arabia

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