TruthNGO- When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) came to power in 2015 he promised to modernise the Saudi kingdom with his “Vision 2030”. He opened cinemas, and allowed women to drive and attend sports events. Seeing this, several western media figures became his cheerleaders, believing him to be the long-awaited liberal reformer who would transform the country for the better. They didn’t count on him jailing every women’s rights activist he could lay his hands on.
As the Independent reported, bin Salman may have implemented some changes, but he has also silenced the very people who advocated for women’s rights for years. In fact, MBS has not modernized the country but transformed the Saudi regime into a more centralized and autocratic, absolute monarchy than ever before, marginalizing and jailing anyone who tries to have their say about their society. He may have allowed women to drive, but he has refused their calls to end the male guardianship system, hold free elections, release prisoners of conscience and allow civil society to operate.
As soon as MBS came to power he arrested thousands of political, social and human rights activists, Islamic scholars and even poets and singers. Salman Al-Odah, a popular and moderate Islamic scholar, was arrested for remaining silent rather than taking a public pro-Riyadh stance against Qatar. Safar al-Hawali, a traditionally-trained Salafi scholar, was arrested for publishing a book criticizing MBS’s visit to the US this year and calling for wider public representation.
But worst of all is the detention of so many Saudi women activists. MBS has arrested the very activists who campaigned for an end to the ban on women driving, for which he himself insists on taking personal credit. Aziza al-Yousef, a retired lecturer and a leading campaigner for women’s right to drive, was arrested in May, harassed and interrogated. Loujain Alhathloul, who famously attempted in 2014 to drive into Saudi Arabia across the border from the UAE, was also arrested in May, along with several others. They have yet to face trial; bringing detainees promptly to trial is another “reform” MBS has so far resisted.