Manal al-Sharif wants Americans to know of Saudi Arabias human rights abuses

The Saudi activist will drive across the US to bring awareness to Americans of the strict guardianship laws in her country Im turning 40 today, and my son is still my guardian

Manal al-Sharif made history in Saudi Arabia eight years ago when she broke the law, simply by getting behind the wheel of a car and driving.


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    Video footage of her stunt went viral, gaining over 700,000 views on YouTube in a day, and propelling Sharif to the frontlines of a battle against the kingdoms ultraconservative government.

    Now, after Saudi Arabia finally made it legal for women to drive last year, Sharif is speaking out again by driving over 3,000 miles across the United States to raise awareness among Americans on human rights abuses in her home country.

    Starting in San Francisco on Friday, the 10-stop tour of major US cities is sponsored by not-for-profit Human Rights Foundation, and will involve travelling over 3,000 miles, taking in places like Phoenix, Arizona, and Birmingham, Alabama.

    It will culminate in a protest outside the Saudi embassy in Washington DC on 25 April, her birthday, to call out Saudi Arabias strict guardianship laws, which require women to have the permission of a man to do basic things, like go to school or to the hospital.

    She plans to stand outside the embassy with a sign that reads: Im turning 40 today, and my son is still my guardian.

    If American citizens are aware that one of their biggest allies, Saudi Arabia, is accused of these huge violations of human rights, they should question their senators, they should question their representatives, they should question their government, Sharif said in an interview with the Guardian in New York this week.

    Sharif is well aware that critics of the Saudi government, particularly the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, put themselves in danger when publicly protesting against the government.

    She has experienced the silencing herself when she was imprisoned in 2011 after posting the video of her driving. And the brutal killing last year of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and a prominent critic of the Saudi government, whose assassination US officials determined was ordered by the kingdoms crown prince, has intensified fears over speaking out.

    But Sharif said that fear will not deter her.

    A lot of people are too afraid [to speak up] after Jamal Khashoggi died. Im like, you have two options: Be quiet and get killed, or speak up and get killed, Sharif said. I think Ill choose to speak up.

    For Sharif, 39, the issues she plans to address during the trip are deeply personal. Though she currently lives in Australia under self-imposed exile with her husband and youngest son, Sharif was born and raised in Saudi Arabia.

    She has lived under the countrys strict guardianship laws. Most recently, her friends who publicly protested against the driving ban have reportedly been imprisoned and tortured by the government for it.

    Her father and oldest son still live in Saudi Arabia. Though she planned on making a visit home to see her family in 2018, she cancelled her trip fearing that she, too, would be arrested.

    At the heart of the message Sharif hopes to share with Americans is criticism of the countrys powerful leader, Prince Mohammed.

    Sharif once had high hopes for the young prince, who many thought would reform the country. In the epilogue of her book, Daring to Drive, which she says she penned in December 2017, she wrote, I was very skeptical, but after a few hours of heated discussions and many more hours of studying and reading, I became a supporter and a believer that this young man can finally bring change.

    But after waves of journalists, academic and fellow activists were arrested, for what many say was a consequence for criticizing the crown prince, Sharif said that hope has subsided.

    Looking back, Sharif says she sees that her aspirations for MBS were based in a deep-set hope that conditions in Saudi Arabia would become better.

    We were getting desperate for change, she said. I wanted to go back to my country. I wanted to have my children with me. I wanted to help build a better country for me, as a woman, and for my children.

    When news of Khashoggis death got out, Sharif said she gave up all faith that her country could change. She deleted her social media accounts, turned down speaking invitations and decided her days as an activist were over.

    But then Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun happened, she said, referring to the Saudi woman who captured the worlds attention in January by barricading herself in a Thai hotel room after fleeing abuse in her country.

    Activists were trying to get the Saudi teenager in touch with Sharif as she was trying to flee her family, who she said had subjected her to years of neglect.

    I saw how scared she was, the way she said: If they send me back to Saudi Arabia, I will kill myself, Sharif said. Thats the moment, like, I just cant be quiet.

    Sharif spoke this week at the 10th Annual Women in the World Summit in New York, which hosted other speakers like Stacey Abrams, Brie Larson and Oprah Winfrey. Sharif told the crowd: Every time someone asks me about the politics, Im like, its so dangerous. I could lose my life if I go back, and I have family there [but] because I live in self-imposed exile in Australia, I can speak up more.

    The reason the government has been able to suppress women for so long, Sharif said, is because of fear. But that continues to change.

    Before Sharif got on stage at the summit, Alia al-Hathloul, sister of activist Loujain al-Hathloul, a womens rights activist who is currently in a Saudi prison, spoke.

    For a long time, I believed that staying silent was the best way to protect Loujain from further harm, Hathloul said. But the injustices have only continued. I have no choice but to speak out and use my voice because my sister cannot.

    Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

     


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