Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Update: Saudi king pardons rape victim

My husband was perusing the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday and came across an article on page 13A announcing an important update regarding a story I mentioned in a previous post.

A few weeks ago, a Saudi woman known only as "the Girl of Qatif" was convicted of violating Islamic law because she was in a car with a man she wasn't related to when seven men attacked and raped them both in 2006. Despite being a victim of gang rape, the 19 year-old was sentenced to prison time and a public lashing for being alone with a man not her husband.

Despite the status of Saudi Arabia as a US ally, President Bush responded to the ruling with unusually strong criticism, saying if the same thing happened to one of his daughters he would be "angry at those who committed the crime. And I'd be angry at a state that didn't support the victim." Although Saudi officials bristled at the worldwide criticism, the pressure appeared too much and King Abdullah pardoned the young woman on Monday.

Interestingly, the announcement of the king's action was published on the front page of Al-Jazirah but it did not appear in any other local media or the state-run news agency. It seems that while the king of Saudi Arabia has some sense of what is right and just (even if he was shamed into it), he is not confident that the Wahhabi influenced Saudi legal system or its populist leaders are capable of the same. Perhaps rightly so.

I am grateful for this "righting of wrongs" in the case of "the Girl of Qatif." But, clearly much, much more remains to be done. Kings and princes cannot step in every time a misogynistic and unjust legal system goes awry. The government must change. The laws must change. And, for now, all I (we) can do is pray and speak the truth.


traveller said...

You might find this quote from a New York Times article interesting. The professor is referring to the pardon:

Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University who specializes in Saudi Arabia, said that was a kind of “double message” commonly employed by the Saudi government.

“On one hand this tells people, ‘We support our system and we will punish you if you violate it,’” he said. “Yet he’s also showing mercy. Throughout, he’s making it clear that he is not disagreeing with the judge’s opinion on this sensitive issue of sexual chastity, but he believes that there is a higher interest to be served by the pardon, whether that’s relationships between Shiites and Sunnis, or international opinion.”

“Conservative scholars and judges will still take this pardon as a slap in the face,” Mr. Haykel continued. “These decisions are always made like this, ad hoc, so that the core values and institutions of the Saudi state are not questioned or threatened.”

The full article can be found at

Saudi Arabia is a very complex country and culture that requires the balancing of many interests for the society/government to survive. Praying for the long term is probably as good a course as any since change will come slowly there. The danger is that the change will go in the wrong direction when it begins.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Thanks for the additional information, Traveller. It was clear from the report of the Saudi representative that there was more going on than just "mercy."

Debbie Kaufman said...

Doesn't that title alone sound like an oxymoron?