ARABS AND THE OLYMPICS: Serious Mixed Feelings about So-Called Saudi ‘Progress’

Editor’s note: Asia Media Staff writer Latifah RahmDel is visiting the United States this month – on holiday from United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, where she is a student. She files this from New York: “Being an Arab in the States during the Olympic Games is surely interesting. Americans are known for their initiative to spark conversations. It’s not my first time to be here yet what captured my attention is the “change” of the topic used to start a conversation. I’m used to the weather, a comment about the “lovely shoes” or my Middle Eastern features perhaps!

But recently a lot of the casual conversations have mostly been driven by the fascination about the Saudi Government’s gesture of allowing women’s participation in the Olympics. What strikes me the most is the association of this step with the “progress” of the Saudi Government, which is known to be a very strict regime.

Personally, I don’t believe that it was a “generous” or “progressive” gesture by the Saudi government; I believe that they had to allow such participation. With all the instant communication worldwide these days, denying the ladies the right to participate in a worldwide known event would have had depicted the Saudi regime as worse than it now is! Imagine all the noise of the world’s social networks!

Therefore, to avoid such negative attention, the government made the smart move of allowing women’s participation, thus impressing the world community and letting the masses react as they will with the “new change” on the inside.

A quick look at social media networks will allow you to imagine the kind of pressure these ladies are going through, from a hash tag calling them “the prostitutes of the Olympics” to “I support Sara Attar,” the Saudi track and field star. Opinions thus very much vary.

Needless to ask, who needs all the negative attention? The Saudi regime is already making a tremendous effort to hide its dirty laundry, while the rest of the world is super-fascinated by this supposedly progressive step of allowing women to take part in the Olympics.

Repressive life goes on in Saudi Arabia but, as usual, the Saudi media is saying nothing about the recent arrests of female protesters who were in the streets, at the malls and in front of courts railing against the unjust arrests of their husbands, brothers and sons. In a society where a woman is pretty much worth nothing and is entitled to do nothing without a male guardian (even if younger to her), these female protesters were fed up with the unjust acts of the regime.

Not only have the Saudi authorities been hiding the female protesters’ movements but they have also been suffocating the recent women rights’ movement, which calls for granting females the right to drive. And several incidents of arrests were made against female activists as well.

While women in Saudi Arabia are thriving for the right to peacefully protest, drive, work as cashiers or even sell lingerie to each other instead of buying it from men, the Saudi regime is selling the world their “progressive gesture of allowing female athletes’ participation in the Olympics”

I’m not, by any chance, trying to minimize the importance of such participation here, quite the contrary: Such a step “made by the ladies” is historic and I’m utterly proud of them. These amazing women are not only enduring the stress of the Olympics, but also the stress and criticism associated with introducing the ‘new change’.”


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