Complex Made Simple

Could Saudi have arrested activists trying to destabilize the kingdom?

Saudi launched a new wave of detentions against certain individuals, not on charges of corruption, but more like treason.

According to the Saudi Press Agency  “A security source at the State Security Presidency said today that the concerned authority has monitored an orchestrated activity of a group of persons who dared to violate the country’s religious and national pillars through making suspected contacts in support of the activities of foreign circles.”

It added “Moreover, recruiting some persons in charge of sensitive government positions, providing the foreign circles with money with the aim to destabilize the Kingdom.”

As a result, authorities arrested twelve people “while work is still going on to pinpoint other suspects.”

AFP, The Guardian, BBC and the Washington Post meanwhile, all said women’s rights activists were the ones arrested before the June 24 lifting of the driving ban, including seven detainees who have long opposed the kingdom’s guardianship laws.

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Who was arrested?

The Guardian quoted Human Rights Watch (HRW) as saying seven prominent women’s rights advocates were detained while the reasons behind the arrests are not clear, activists told HRW.

In September 2017, “the royal court had called the country’s prominent activists … and warned them not to speak to the media”.

“The calls were made the same day the authorities announced that they would lift the driving ban on women,” HRW said.

The Guardian said that detainees arrested since 15 May include Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan, women who have long opposed the driving ban.

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These activists, the UK daily said, were also outspoken on Saudi’s guardianship laws, which require Saudi women to obtain permission from male family members for activities like travelling, working and others that women worldwide take for granted.

Activists Nafjan and Hathloul in 2016 signed a petition to abolish Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system, according to HRW, reported the UK daily, adding they also participated in a campaign against the driving ban, before a royal decree announced it would be lifted.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, orchestrated the lifting of Saudi’s longstanding driving ban on women, part of wide reaching decisions aimed at opening up the kingdom to FDI, and transforming the economy away from oil.

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How Open is Saudi?  

BBC said Saudi reforms have not been uneventful.

“In November last year, dozens of high-profile princes, businessmen and former and serving ministers were rounded up in an anti-corruption drive seen by many as a purge by the crown prince,” BBC said.

More than 300 people, including some of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen, princes and officials, were detained in what the government described as an anti-corruption campaign.

They were detained in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton hotel for several months and most were released after paying large settlements in cash, property and/or assets.