In its editorial two days ago, The Washington Post claimed that Saudi Arabia is
not driving freedoms forward and, as such, Britain has called for the abolition
of the Saudi system of male guardianship for women.
This raises some
important questions: Does Britain know that this system is built on some Islamic
rules? If it does, doesn’t its call represent interference in the beliefs of
others and an attempt to impose Western moral views on other peoples? Does
Britain know that this system exists in other Muslim countries, such as Egypt?
If it does, why has it confined its call to Saudi Arabia? And finally, does it
matter to the Post and Britain what Saudi women think of this system? I, with
the help of my Saudi former students at Al-Lith College for Girls (Um Al-Qura
University, Mecca), conducted an opinion poll of nearly 8,402 Saudi women from
all walks of life to find out whether they support the system of male
guardianship or oppose it. Furthermore, I asked my sister in Egypt to help me
run a survey of about 5,442 Egyptian women regarding this issue.
results of both questionnaires revealed that 90 percent of Saudi and Egyptian
women support the system of male guardianship.
This was not a surprise to
me, but it may be a surprise for many Westerners who argue that such a system
cripples women’s freedoms and rights.
But has anybody heard about the
terrible incident that happened in the eastern area of Riyadh some weeks ago? A
Saudi girl on her way to school was sexually assaulted by five men, who, after
that, kidnapped and killed her. This girl was not the first or last victim. Many
victims have been reported.
And only a few days ago, a similar incident
occurred in the same area. The Saudi police arrested three of the perpetrators,
but the other two are still free. A Saudi girl told me that a woman cannot make
a day visit to her neighbor unless she has a guardian to go with her. Another
said that while she was shopping some days ago, the shop assistant wrote his
phone number on a piece of paper and put it in the bag. The girl’s mother
noticed and thought her daughter knew about it and kept rebuking her innocent
daughter, who, as she told me, went into depression.
The girl says, “It
was a clothes shop, and when we returned to our house, we discovered that the
clothes are small; but neither my mother nor I dared to go back to that
I’ve heard the same story from many Saudi and Egyptian girls, who
confirmed that they feel safe when they have guardians and that this system
doesn’t stifle their freedom. No one can deny that many incidents of sexual
harassment occurred even in public squares like Tahrir Square in Egypt. And
thanks to some good people, some victims have been saved.
THE ISSUE of
sexual harassment exists everywhere in the world. However, to my surprise, this
week I discovered that Arabs may be greater perpetrators of such crimes than
Europeans. Importantly, in the Polish dormitory I live in now, I watched two
Arab guys keep harassing European girls.
For example, he and his friend
would say inappropriate Arabic words to a European girl, who understands
nothing, or stand in front of her, obstructing her path.
Last night, when
a girl saw such guys in the elevator, she didn’t get on it. When I told the
offenders that this was immoral behavior and they must leave the girls alone,
they said, “We try to enjoy our time and have fun; we’re in
Sexual harassment may happen, as a Saudi girl told me, even when
the girl has a guardian. So think what would happened if she hasn’t one. Many
incidents happen, but unfortunately many girls don’t like to report it,
preferring to avoid gossip and rumors. And if traveling alone to another country
is so difficult for many men, how difficult is it for women? In the end, if
Britain wants Islamic countries to drop such a system of male guardianship, they
should first ask Arab women.
The writer is an Egyptian artist and a PhD