Middle East

‘Shameful’: Vogue lauds Saudi driving reform amid crackdown on women activists

Vogue Arabia revealed the cover of its June edition on Wednesday featuring a Saudi princess at the wheel of a car, sparking strong reaction on social media.

The magazines cover features Saudi Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah al-Saud in a car in the desert, accompanied by the words "a celebration of the trailblazing women of Saudi Arabia".

#VogueArabia is driving into the future with #SaudiArabia. Stay tuned for more on our June issue soon… #SaudiIssue ?? pic.twitter.com/7tZLe5Qutn

— Vogue Arabia (@VogueArabia) May 28, 2018

Social media users were quick to call out the magazine for celebrating the lifting of the driving ban on women while forgetting to mention the Saudi womens rights activists who first championed lifting the ban. Many of them were arrested earlier this month.

Many commentators also expressed surprise a member of the Saudi ruling family was championed by the magazine when many activists who have campaigned for women's rights for years have been incarcerated.

You've got to be kidding me. A princess graces the cover of next month's Vogue Arabia while @azizayousef @Saudiwoman @LoujainHathloul and other activist women who have worked tirelessly to lift driving ban languish in jail pic.twitter.com/gEmXh8sTHL

— Bethan McKernan (@mck_beth) May 31, 2018

Do you know that the women who asked for the right to drive now are in prison on charges of state treason … Please amend this issue of the magazine because it violates the rights of activists #FreeSaudiActivists

— elana~إيلانا (@elanarm451) May 31, 2018

What a shameful insensitive cover! Did you know that KSA put women rights activists in jail last week? So HRH the princess can drive a car, it's okay, everything is cool in the kingdom, and let @LoujainHathloul and friends burn in hell? Shame on you Vogue Arabia and Mr. Arnaut!

— Sanaa (@Sanaalkhoury) May 30, 2018

At least 11 women's rights activists have been detained in recent days.

Human Rights Watch voiced concern on Wednesday over the "vague charges" the 11 are facing, adding that many campaigners have disappeared from the activism sphere following the arrests.

“The Saudi government seems so consumed with silencing dissent that even activists who have gone quiet for fear of retribution are being targeted again,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Saudi authorities should be concerned that the chill created by this new wave of repression will lead the countrys allies to question how serious Saudi Arabia is about changing its approach to womens rights.”

A Saudi activist, who did not wish to be named because of fears for their own safety, told Middle East Eye: “What we are seeing is that there is no tolerance of any kind for any type of [activist] activity.

“It is meant to send a clear message to the people that no one is supposed to speak on public affairs, nobody is supposed to be part of any engagement in society other than the state."

She doesnt deserve to be on the cover. Her backward « royal family » are the reason for women in saudi not enjoying this right from the beginning. The real heros and heroines are behind bars!

— Samira Abdulla (@tanweengun) May 31, 2018

One social media user covered the face of the princess with the faces of activists Lojain al-Hathloul and Aziza al-Yousef.

Hi Vogue Arabia, I fixed it for you! pic.twitter.com/HdY0Fxrv9Z

— إسقاطية (@ItzVXII) May 30, 2018

According to Human Rights Watch, Hathloul, who has been arrested at least twice before for defying the driving ban on women, is being held incommunicado. Yousef is a retired lecturer and was a leading campaigner for women's right to drive and ending the male guardianship system in the country.

On Tuesday, the Saudi government approved a measure criminalising sexual harassment. It was hailed by some as another example of positive social reform led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

However, human rights groups have questioned MBS's reform agenda following the arrests.

"Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salmans 'reform campaign' has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or womens empowerment," said Whitson.

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