Voices from the Arab Press: Saudi Arabia Doesn't Need Women's Day

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin (right) gestures next to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting at the Sirius educational center, in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on February 15. (photo credit: REUTERS)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin (right) gestures next to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko during their meeting at the Sirius educational center, in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on February 15.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Okaz, Saudi Arabia, March 9
The debate over the empowerment of women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been ongoing for years. On one hand, the state believes that women are an essential element of the nation’s power. On the other hand, no real projects have been implemented on the ground with the aim of empowering women and providing them with a safe environment that would allow them to fully integrate into society.
A key improvement took place with the launch of the kingdom’s Vision 2030, which actively promotes the social, economic and political empowerment of women as a means to advance the nation’s well-being.
One of its stated goals, for example, is to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%. This might seem like a small change, yet it’s an important one, nonetheless. It reminds us just how important these reforms are and what great potential they have.
Saudi women have witnessed major improvements to their everyday lives. The measures taken by their country to protect and empower their rights, which no one could have imagined just a few years ago, have become a full-fledged reality. Just a few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia’s first female ambassador was appointed to the United States, one of the nation’s most important diplomatic posts. Last year, women were finally allowed to travel and drive without the supervision of a male guardian. The state has also taken great action in combating domestic violence.
What is unique about all of these reforms is that they took place not because of external pressure, but due to a genuine desire at home, within Saudi society, to become more tolerant and inclusive. The biggest testament to this is the strong support these initiatives received among the wider public.
This International Women’s Day, Saudi Arabia is experiencing an unparalleled improvement to the rights of its women. There is still a long way to go, but there is also a strong coalition within Saudi society that supports these changes. Saudi Arabia isn’t interested in mimicking other nations’ experience of empowering women, but, rather, in forging its own way. It is certainly on the right path. 
– Salman al-Dossari
Al-Arab, UK, March 10
Cecilia Oden, a veteran Swedish journalist, has focused her media and research efforts on the Middle East, where she lives almost permanently, moving between many capitals and places there. It was a few days ago, in Qamishli and the Hull camp, that she interviewed a wide host of Yazidi girls and women who were victims of a sadistic torture campaign at the hands of Islamic State. Many of those Oden spoke with recounted their stories in painful details.
One woman witnessed her father and husband slaughtered in front of her and her young children. She then began to recount the details of her journey of suffering with slavery and sexual exploitation, and the cruelty she was subjected to. Sadly, this is not the only story. There are hundreds of accounts just like this one.
Based on her experience of the region’s cultures and beliefs, Oden highlighted the problematic nature of many Yazidis, who are known for their attachment to their family and community. Many women have given birth to children during the period of enforced sexual slavery. Their return to their families and their children is therefore impossible. This is yet another tragedy added to their already great calamity.
The Yazidi clergy understood the situation and welcomed the return of the Yazidi victims to their families, but without the children who, according to their religion, had a sinful relationship that could never be tolerated, with the explicit recognition that the Yazidi victims were not responsible.
These stories once again bring to our attention the horrendous crimes perpetuated by ISIS, not only physically but also psychological. It destroyed a legitimate Syrian revolution that sought to bring down a regime of tyranny and create a democratic and pluralistic state that guaranteed all Syrians – without exception – freedom, justice and a decent life.
The tragedy of the Yazidis is painful. Its horrific details evoke all the anger and reveal the savage side of the human being who is stripped of all values, while hiding behind the veil of religion.
The Yazidi community is a peaceful society by nature, devoted to the affairs of its daily life without interference in the affairs of others. Their suffering continues to unfold. It has not, and will not, end with the release of a limited number of their daughters or children. Their territory is still occupied by various militias. The Yazidis continue to live in the most difficult conditions, in camps that are not suitable for daily living. Most sadly, they are not taken into serious consideration by the international community. Nobody is fighting for their right to return to their homes and to pursue their normal life in a peaceful manner, as they have always done. This is a shame on all of us.
– Abdul Basit Sidama 
Al-Anba, Kuwait, March 8
A debate emerged in recent years among Western diplomats about the “post-Putin” era. This topic has been the subject of several closed-door symposia that sought to answer the following question: Who will come after Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who has been in charge of the country – whether as president or prime minister – since the beginning of the 21st century?
One participant said he thought Russia after Putin would become dull. “Putin is a transitional figure in many respects. He was a KGB agent in East Germany and witnessed its collapse. He returned to Russia and saw the collapse of the Soviet Union. Therefore, he is not trying to revive the Soviet Union or to reestablish the Russian empire. What he is trying is to create something new.”
All experts agree that the question of what will become of Russia in the post-Putin era is at the forefront of Russian elites’ agenda. They have been thinking about this since he was elected president in 2000.
One of the scenarios they are talking about is that Putin will resist the two-term limit imposed on him, which would put him out of office in 2024. How could he circumvent this? The scenario being put forward is that he will carry out an “Anschluss” over Belarus and annex the latter as part of Russia, just as Germany did with Austria in World War II. This idea is now on paper. Putin, as president of this new union, would be able serve two new terms after his current one ends in 2024.
So many people are really worried about this, especially in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. “I was in Belarus last November and had a meeting with President Alexander Lukashenko, and it seemed to me that he was very concerned. We know that he [Putin] is a dictator and not a nice person, but what is particularly worrying now is that Russia will try to take over all of Belarus’s institutions,” said one participant in the meeting.
The repeated meetings between Putin and Lukashenko throughout 2018 did not ease the bilateral tensions between Moscow and Minsk. The meeting of the two presidents in February in Sochi also did not achieve a solution, and the talks are expected to continue. Russian elites know that they will have to openly declare their loyalty to Putin and his campaign against the West.
– Hada al-Husseini
Al-Ghad, Jordan, March 7
Al-Aqsa Mosque is being used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for political purposes, as part of his bid for renewed tenure in the upcoming election. Netanyahu allied himself with an extremist right-wing group that calls to take over al-Aqsa Mosque and restore the so-called Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
Since Netanyahu’s political campaign began, Israeli raids on the mosque have been steadily increasing, culminating in the arrest of security guards and Jordanian Wakf [Islamic religious trust] officials working on the premises. Israel has long sought to curb Jordan’s authority over al-Aqsa, but is now taking this effort to the next level.
Playing the al-Aqsa card is a dangerous move on behalf of Netanyahu. It can easily backlash and blow up in Israel’s face. Whenever the Israeli authorities push their agenda on Jerusalem too far, they are immediately met with popular resistance among the Palestinian public.
However, it is also important to ensure an adequate political response. How will Jordan and the Palestinian Authority react to the repeated Israeli incursions into al-Aqsa Mosque Compound? This remains to be seen.
Both sides are anxiously waiting to discover the details of US President Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century,” which will help shed light on the future of Jerusalem. Based on indications from senior US officials, Trump’s peace plan will not only destroy any hope for a viable Palestinian state but also cut all Palestinian claims to Islam’s holiest site in Jerusalem.
Therefore, while we hope for the best, we must expect the worst. The Israeli election coupled with Trump’s upcoming announcement of a peace plan will likely put the Palestinians between a rock and a hard place. Instead of being passive observers of this political crisis that is unfolding against our eyes, we must take deliberate action to protect the rights of the Palestinian people.
– Maher Abu Tir