Perhaps some Arab women want male guardianship?

If Britain wants Islamic countries to drop such a system of male guardianship, they should first ask Arab women.

December 2, 2013 23:16
3 minute read.
Women in Egypt [illustrative]

Veiled women in Egypt 370. (photo credit: Amr Dalsh / Reuters)


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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.

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The 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 shop.”


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 Europe.”

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 student.

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