Saudi Women’s Rights Activists Pull Back Curtain on Crown Prince

The case of Loujain al-Hathloul and others is embarrassing for MBS, who wants Western allies to consider him a reformer, say  Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold.

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul in 2017. (Emna Mizouni, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold

Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia’s 34-year-old de facto ruler is on a tear. He has arrested members of his own royal family and initiated an oil price war with Russia that has sent the price of oil — and the world’s stock markets — plummeting.

Behind the headlines, another critical event is taking place in Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was arrested almost two years ago for advocating the right to drive, was due back in court. The diabolical MBS wants the world to believe he is the Arab world’s liberal reformer and took credit for eventually granting women the right to drive, but he is also the one who had al-Hathloul and nine other women thrown in prison, charging them as foreign agents and spies. The imprisonment of these peaceful activists exposes the brutal nature of MBS’s regime and the duplicity of the Western democracies that continue to support him.

Loujain al-Hathloul gained notoriety in 2013 for campaigning against the driving ban when she posted videos of herself driving as an act of civil disobedience. She was first arrested in December 2014 when she attempted to drive from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia and spent 73 days in prison at that time. Al-Hathloul has also been an outspoken advocate for an end to the male guardianship system that treats women as no more than children throughout their entire lives.

On May 15, 2018, a group of armed men from the state security agency raided al-Hathloul’s family’s house and arrested her. For the first three months of her detention, she was held incommunicado with no access to her family or a lawyer. According to the communication she was later able to have with her family, during those three months, she was beaten, waterboarded, given electric shocks, sexually harassed, and threatened with rape and murder.

Al-Hathloul languished in a Saudi prison for almost a year before the public prosecutor’s office finally announced that it had concluded its investigation and alleged that Loujain was involved in activities that “aim to undermine the Kingdom’s security, stability, and national unity.” She was accused of contacting “enemy groups” — a reference to cooperation with the United Nations and human rights groups such as Amnesty International.

Al-Hathloul’s initial hearing was in March 2019, but she was not allowed access to a lawyer or to hear the charges prior to the hearing. Her family members were permitted to attend, but the court was closed to both diplomats and journalists. 

Freedom in Exchange for Denying Torture

Saudi Crown Prince MBS, second from left, at 2018 Saudi investment forum. (YouTube)

According to her family, in August 2019, al-Hathloul was offered her freedom in exchange for denying, on video, that she was subjected to torture. She refused. For her incredible bravery and determination to fight for women’s rights, eight members of U.S. Congress have nominated al-Hathloul for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The case of al-Hathloul and the other women’s rights activists on trial in Saudi Arabia is a tremendous embarrassment for MBS, who has been putting an enormous effort into convincing his Western allies that he is a reformer and that Saudi Arabia is becoming more liberal. But behind the facade of new musical concerts and theme parks, the crown prince has overseen a vast crackdown on all forms of opposition and dissent. In November 2018, the CIA concluded that MBS was the one who ordered the gruesome assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. MBS is also responsible for dragging Saudi Arabia into an internal conflict in Yemen, where constant Saudi bombings have decimated what was already a poor country.

The fact that MBS lifted the driving ban and simultaneously put in prison those who had campaigned and suffered for such reforms makes clear his actual motive: to silence dissent and prevent these women from being heard. Loujain’s sister Lina al-Hathloul says that the regime arrested these women’s rights activists “so that they make the [Saudi] people understand that change only comes top down. And the people should not even try to make the changes.” This sentiment was echoed by Suzanne Nossel, the head of PEN America. “These gutsy women have challenged one of the world’s most notoriously misogynist governments, inspiring the world with their demand to drive, to govern their own lives, and to liberate all Saudi women from a form of medieval bondage that has no place in the 21st century,” she said.

“The very existence of this sham trial pulls the veil off of the authorities’ so-called push for reforms in the Kingdom,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director. “How can they initiate change in the country when the very women who fought for these reforms are still being punished for it?”

The bogus trial against Loujan al-Hathloul should compel governments around the world to put more pressure on the Saudis and demand al Houthloul’s immediate and unconditional release. Her imprisonment — as well as MBS’s arrest of royal family members and Saudi’s brutal war in Yemen — should be particularly embarrassing to the world community in light of the G20 meeting scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia in November. How can the world’s leaders pretend that it is acceptable to meet in a country that imprisons and tortures peaceful women activists and bombs civilians in Yemen? It isn’t.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.” 

Ariel Gold is the national co-director of CODEPINK and runs the organization’s Middle East Program. 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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13 comments for “Saudi Women’s Rights Activists Pull Back Curtain on Crown Prince

  1. Guy
    March 12, 2020 at 16:53

    To the shame of my country also for supplying military equipment to such a backward tyrannical nation .

  2. rosemerry
    March 12, 2020 at 15:48

    Saudi-Arabia is one of the USA’s closest allies and buyer of huge amounts of arms to “defend itself” against such women as Loujan al-Hathloul and the Houthis in the poorest country in the region. To observe the interference and cruelty of the USA in its “sanctions” against Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Syria, North Korea and anywhere else under the ridiculous pretence of bringing democracy and freedom highlights the hypocrisy and overweening conceit of an alleged model for us all to follow.

  3. Vera Gottlieb
    March 12, 2020 at 15:17

    I love to travel but you could not pay me enough to make me set foot in a country where a woman is less than a zero.

  4. mary e
    March 12, 2020 at 13:11

    Over the past three years, the US has increased its bold backing of this evil Saudi ‘prince’ of a man…and covered up his order to assassinate Khashoggi. With backing like that, how can anyone expect that a country will be benevolent to its own people?
    The US is now a model for that evil.

  5. robert e williamson jr
    March 12, 2020 at 12:41

    I cannot think of a better example of why the U.S. should have never used torture in the first place. Nothing else normalizes this barbaric practice more than the actions of the U.S.A. who should lead by example.

  6. March 12, 2020 at 11:55

    Perhaps someone like Tarentino could make a movie about MBS and call it “Saudi Chainsaw Murder” to expose the criminal bastard for what he is.

  7. Hide Behind
    March 12, 2020 at 11:47

    Except for the herd of two legged animals there are no concepts of Rights” or for that matter right or wrong, which is too bad for those in the natural world, that of plants, insects, virus, bacteria, reptiles, amphibians, fish and other mammals who are fast facing extinction by the two legged herds right to exist.
    The only true right, is what the individuals own capabilities of projection of self, and protection of self ,true defensive mindset. needed in order to adapt and survive in whatever environment one finds itself.
    Is it a “Right” for any and all humans to be able to drive an automobile, or is it right that fights against what one portion of society percieve wrong imposed upon one sector of society over another.
    In US government has Right by Might to control over who what and where of all manners relating to automotive transportation,, and that is in many ways in opposition to Americans assumption of Right to travel, we now travel by assistance and permission of authority.
    More power to those who protest against governments abuse of authority, but there is no way that government control by might can be eliminated, so in end results we have no Rights” only government granted permissions.

  8. John Drake
    March 12, 2020 at 10:05

    And yet the US sanctions those nasty socialist governments like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and of course helps to overthrow Bolivia. Those governments are so bad for daring to try to raise the living standards, education and health of their people. Why, they are committing crimes against neo-liberalism, terrible.
    On the other hand a government embracing the values and mores of the Middle Ages is just dandy-as long as they are nice to the apartheid state of Israel.
    Now that they are playing games with oil prices, will they still be so favored?
    The deal with the devil may be unraveling.

  9. Litchfield
    March 12, 2020 at 09:51

    Medea Benjamin is right to express her outrage.
    Just the sight of MBS with his curled lip and pudgy self-indulged cheeks and shifty eyes makes my stomach churn.
    Ditto the ridiculous table cloths these Masters of Their Universe wear on their head.
    They would be utterly laughable if they were not so vicious.
    I am glad that Putin has given MBS a punch or two in his oily nose.
    Onen for the Russians, and one for Arabian women. I don’t even want to use the moniker “Saudi” for the subjects of the kingdom, because that is a family name and they are not members of this dreadful family.

    The House of Saud rose to power on the Arabian peninsula because they were willing to be British tools and proxies.
    Time to take these beasts down a peg or two. Or throw them out of their palaces altogether. Living in a tent is fun!

  10. geeyp
    March 12, 2020 at 06:42

    And yet we, the USA, still sell military materiel to this tyrant, and we give it to Netanyahu along with millions of tax payer dollars? Difficult to handle this situation happening in the 21st century.

  11. DavidH
    March 11, 2020 at 17:43

    I had to turn off “Fresh” Air today…March the 11th. Pretty much usual anyway.

    • Tim
      March 12, 2020 at 11:32

      If you’re referencing NPR, I’m curious as to why? Did you find the report biased? I remember a popular expression back in the early 1960’s that women should be kept “barefoot and pregnant” and for God’s sake don’t ever allow them to think for themselves. As a very young teen I didn’t understand how incredibly humiliating and completely unfair for women (ie; my mother and sister) that concept was until I got out working and saw that attitude play itself out very unfairly in the real world. Perhaps your one of the few men left-over from that era who of the who agrees with MBS on this very outdated logic?

    • March 12, 2020 at 12:45

      Putrefying Air, that is.

Comments are closed.