SAUDI ARABIA is back in the headlines. That’s rarely a good thing. This time, a young woman is fleeing for her life, claiming her family will kill her if she’s returned to Saudi Arabia. And once again, we’re reminded that Saudi Arabia is no friend to democracy. For the United States, it is a Middle East partner of convenience. (“France has no friends, only interests.”—Charles de Gaulle)
The woman, age 18, is Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. She fled her family and arrived at an airport in Thailand, planning on pleading an asylum case in Australia, according to The New York Times. She was detained and had her passport taken. While Thai authorities worked to deport her back to Saudi Arabia against her wishes, Ms. Alqunun barricaded herself in an airport hotel room.
In an act of desperation, she pleaded her case to the world on social media, telling everyone she was an atheist, and if she gets sent back home, her family will kill her. The plea seems to have bought her a little more time; because of media pressure and other factors, she has been granted refugee status by the United Nations’ refugee agency.
Time and time again, Saudi Arabia has shown how poorly it treats women. In Saudi Arabia, women need a male guardian (a father, husband or brother) to travel, marry or even exit prison. Because legally, they are permanent minors. Ms. Alqunun has broken the rules by traveling alone to seek asylum. Combine that with her new declaration about her thoughts on religion, and it’s not unbelievable to think the worst will happen to her if she returns home.
We’ve seen this before. Remember Dina Ali Lasloom? In 2017, she also sought asylum in Australia. She escaped Saudi Arabia only to be caught while traveling. She made a similar plea for protection, saying she’d be killed if she returned home. The Saudi woman was reportedly last seen being dragged onto a plane with her mouth gagged and legs and arms bound. What’s she doing now? Who knows? Supposedly she was taken to a detention center, but anybody who really
knows isn’t talking.
It’s undeniable that the United States, as a nation, benefits from cooperation with Saudi Arabia in that country’s rough neighborhood. There are business deals, military assets and other integral parts of our relationship that can’t be flushed because a government professionally “disappears” its troublesome women and journalists.
But there needs to be more done than finger-shaking at a brutal monarchy that treats the fairer sex like sold goods.
As for Thailand and Australia, let’s hope for Ms. Alqunun’s sake she’s granted asylum. She told The New York Times she was once locked in a room for six months because she cut her hair in a style her family disliked. Most freedom lovers would consider that poor form.
America’s leaders need to start throwing more weight around when it comes to Saudi Arabia. The good news is that many are. See the reaction to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Especially in the American Congress.
Maybe the Saudis will prove educable. It would help if their allies in the western world didn’t turn their back on their own principles.