Saudi Arabia: Women Need Equal Rights


After the men of Saudi Arabia were recently ordered by their king to drive tanks into neighboring Bahrain to crush a pro-democracy uprising, a counterattack of sorts was launched last week when the Saudi women courageously took to the streets and drove cars in violation of a sexist law that bars them from operating vehicles.

Although the protest occurred in Saudi Arabia, discrimination against women pervades the entire Persian Gulf. I saw a sign at a hotel swimming pool in Dubai, United Arab Emirates that said women could use the pool between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. only. A Ponderosa Steak House in Doha, Qatar, had one entryway for men and another for women and families. As I walked through the wrong door, not noticing the warning, the waiter escorted me to the correct section for men. Throughout the Persian Gulf, where temperatures can rise to 106 F in the shade, men wear comfortable white cotton with their faces exposed, while women dress like nuns in hot black robes, with everything covered but their eyes.

Saudi Arabia’s Stone Age policy of limiting the use of vehicles to men, and other such Persian Gulf practices, are due to a lack of a representative democracy, where women are excluded from the process, a mix of church and state, and geographical isolation.

Undemocratic monarchies, like the Saudi Arabian kingdom, should be overthrown. Voices on Wall Street and in the Pentagon, who fear change in the region, should be ignored. While markets may momentary get the jitters, during a transition away from a monarch, a democratic leader will certainly continue the sale of oil and there will be no long-term disruption in energy supply.

After establishing a republic, the mixing church and state must be addressed. The problem is any form of government in Saudi Arabia will favor Islam, since the Prophet Mohammed was born in Mecca. The only way to guarantee women freedom from backward religious beliefs is to use the tension between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims to guarantee some constitutional rights.

Perhaps the best way to move the isolated Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabian kingdom into the 21st Century is through increased communication. Not all Muslim states live in the Stone Age. Those along the Mediterranean rim, physically closer to Europe, have had a greater exposure to Western values and customs. Until recently, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf was simply too far away to hear arguments supporting equal rights. With the Internet, the idea of equality is able to spread, and change is now possible.

The West should support democratic movements among our Persian Gulf allies; we should advance the American idea of a separation of church and state, and continue interjecting modern ideas into isolated regions through the Internet and other forms of communication, so someday soon equal rights can be achieved.

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