The cover of the lifestyle magazine Vogue’s Arab edition in June has just sparked widespread criticism. In the cover, a Saudi princess is seen sitting in the driving seat of a red convertible. Vogue informed that the cover was to celebrate the recent ban lifting on women driving in Saudi Arabia. However many are criticizing that a large number of women rights activists have so far been imprisoned or harassed for their demand towards women’s’ right to drive.
Princess Hayfa Bint Abdullah al-Saud is the daughter of late Saudi king Abdullah. She is photographed in the magazine cover seen sitting in the driving seat of a red car in the middle of a dessert. As per the magazine, the ‘driving’ princess and her confident look represent the recent Saudi announcement on lifting decades long ban on woman driving any vehicle.
However the critics are not interested to appreciate the move, neither to praise the Vogue cover. They are informing that so far 11 women rights activists have been imprisoned for their campaign for woman’s driving right.
The government agencies have brought allegations against them of attempting to destabilize the internal security and social structure of Saudi Arabia. The state run medias have portrayed them as ‘traitors’ and agents of the ’embassies’.
Though in recent years, few of the arrested have been released by the authority, still some prominent faces have remained behind the bars. Three well known activists Laujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yosef and Eman al-Nafjan are among them.
Laujain was arrested in 2014 and kept in prison for 73 days as she attempted to drive from United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia. Aziza, aged 70, was one of the initial activists who demanded for woman’s driving right. And Eman is a renown blogger.
Numerous women and human right activists have demanded the release of all the detainees. They also criticized Vogue magazine of only glorifying Saudi decision of ban lifting, ignoring the harassments on the activists who have been demanding for this lifting for decades.
Manal al-Sharif, one of the notable campaigners of #women2drive has posted a video on Twitter requesting the people not to forget the persons who have been jailed for the cause. She wrote there, “These amazing women they fought for women’s right, they fought specially in the women2drive movement.
In the conservative socio system of Saudi Arabia it was unimaginable even few years ago to see woman driving a car, going to stadium for enjoying a game or not seeking permission of any male family member to go outside the house. But the country’s current ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has one by one opened all these doors for the women. He is encouraging women to participate more in social and national life of Saudi Arabia. The sudden bunch of reforms have brought Prince Salman immense appreciations from around the globe.
The cover girl of Vogue’s much conversed June edition Princess Hayfa told in an interview with the magazine, “In our country, there are some conservatives who fear change. For many, it’s all they have known. Personally, I support those changes with great enthusiasm.”
However as the harassment on right activists is still going on, and some of the previously arrested are still behind bars, many in and outside Saudi Arabia are not ready to welcome the reform initiatives taken by Prince Salman.
Sarah Lean Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch as said that Prince Salman should remember the contributions and sacrifices of the right activists for the same reforms that Prince Salman is conducting today. She alleged that the authority is punishing them instead.
Same tone echoed in United Nation’s human rights official Elizabeth Throsell. She questions why Saudi authority detaining the rights activists for demanding the same initiatives that Prince Salman is taking now.
However this is not the first time Vogue facing such harsh criticism in recent years. In 2011, it put Syrian First Lady Asma al-Asad in it’s cover with the title ‘A Rose In The Desert’. People took no time to condemn it stating that while hundreds of innocent Syrians including lots of children are dying each day for President Bashar al-Asad, at that time his wife shouldn’t be portrayed in such a fancy manner by a responsible media.