Saudi Arabia Outlaws Women
As of 3 November, anyone in possession of a woman will face fines or imprisonment, with more severe terms for possession of multiple women. Producers of women will face the death penalty. The Saudi move comes at a time of heightened tension between the government’s west-leaning foreign policy and its cultivation of Wahhabist Islam, an ultraconservative interpretation of the faith.
“The Saudis walk a fine line between friendliness to its Western allies and commercial partners on one hand, and its adherence, at least outwardly, to a position that sees the cultures of those allies as a major threat,” said B.S. Windbag, a professor of Islamic Thought at Case Western University. “Banning women, whom they see as the chief vehicle for ‘western’ sexual mores, allows the ruling family to maintain its image as a guardian of Islam.”
Saudi Arabia already has restrictions on who may enter the kingdom; few non-Muslims are permitted, and then only under special circumstances, such as foreign diplomats. In the holy city of Mecca, no non-Muslims are allowed at all. According to Windbag, “This ban might be unprecedented in scope, but not it spirit,” referring to the existing Saudi policy that bars women from appearing in public without a male relative as an escort.
Historically, the Saudi ruling family has enforced standards among the most restrictive of all Muslim countries, not permitting women to obtain a driving licence and insisting all women wear garments that conceal every part of their bodies. The new policy is a tacit acknowledgment that even those radical policies have not been sufficient to safeguard the kingdom’s moral rectitude, according to Wyldas Gess, a political commentator for CBS News.
It remains unclear how extensive the ban will be; foreign diplomats might yet be permitted to bring along families that include women. Those details will be settled over the next few weeks as the authorities develop strategies for enforcing and monitoring adherence.
In a related development, Iran announced it is considering banning men in order to keep out such Western influences as homosexuality.
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