Don't Fall For Saudi Crown Prince's Advocacy For Equality For Women

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The latest arrests are a wakeup call for people who thought the Saudi crown prince was a reformer.

Saudi women

You can't call someone a reformer or a women's rights champion if they arrest women's rights activists and brand them as traitors simply for their activism.

From lifting the infamous driving ban to allowing women to participate in municipal elections, Saudi Arabia seems to be moving in a slow but steady pace to make the country a better place for women.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) is often credited with bringing about the long-overdue reforms and, to some extent, he is indeed responsible for the progress but calling him a reformer, a revolutionary or a women's rights champion could be a stretch because he is certainly not all those things.

Just recently, under MBS' de-facto leadership, at least 11 human rights activists, most of them women who led the campaign against the driving ban, were arrested — just days before the lifting of the ban.

In addition to arresting the activists without providing details of their supposed offenses, Saudi authorities have also denied them access to lawyers.

One of the most prominent detainees is Loujain al-Hathloul, who was arrested for 73 days after she attempted to drive from the UAE into Saudi Arabia in 2014.

So far, only murky details are available as far as the reason of the arrests is concerned. State media claims the women had "suspicious contact with foreign parties" and many newspapers have even branded them as "traitors."

However, international human organizations have refuted the allegations against the detainees as a smear campaign.

It is a well-documented fact that the recent women's rights reforms are part of the crown prince's ambitious Vision 2030, which is basically part of a broader plan to wean Saudi Arabia off oil money.

Now, another major part of Vision 2030 is to attract foreign investment, which comprises western investors mostly. Since, Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses, including its stranglehold on women's rights, could be a major deterrent for foreign investors, easing life for Saudi women was a necessary step for MBS.

In a way, it was clever a business move on the crown prince's part. Spearheading women's rights? Not so much.

"The crown prince, who has styled himself as a reformer with Western allies and investors, should be thanking the activists for their contributions to the Saudi women's rights movement," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, in a statement.

"Instead, the Saudi authorities appear to be punishing these women's rights champions for promoting a goal [Mohammed] bin Salman alleges to support - ending discrimination against women."

On June 24, Saudi women will take the wheel for the first time ever. Meanwhile, the activists who actually fought for that change remain in prison.

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

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