It was announced recently that Saudi Arabia would allow their female athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time. This follows the President of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee calling for a withdrawal from the games after the IOC (International Olympic Committee) nearly banned Saudi Arabia altogether. So, are things getting better for Saudi women?

The move comes not too long after King Abdullah went against the more conservative elements of his government by pledging to allow women the vote in the 2015 election, and  the right to stand for the Consultative Assembly; however many astute commentators highlighted, at the time, that women would still not be allowed to drive themselves to the polling stations.

…liberal in Saudi Arabia means something quite different…

Though King Abdullah may seem progressive, there are many, including some women, who think the moves are bowing to Western influence and will lead to a degradation of Saudi society. One cleric infamously said that if women were ever allowed to drive it would spell the “end of virginity” in the country.

On another note, the more liberally-minded may have felt some relief at the death of the Crown Prince, heir apparent, Nayef, who was known to hold much more conservative views than King Abdullah. In his place, Prince Salman, the current Minster of Defence, was royally appointed: Salman is thought to be more pragmatic and liberal though, according to a US diplomatic cable, he is not an advocate for democracy in the Kingdom: liberal in Saudi Arabia means something quite different to its meaning in the West.

…whoever comes next must continue along this path.

A progressive leader seems to be what Saudi Arabia needs. In King Abdullah, the country has found someone who is willing to plant the seeds of change through women’s rights – whoever comes next must continue along this path.

As for Saudi Arabia’s female presence at the Olympics, even though women were given the go ahead to participate, one potential real contender, a female jockey, has said she will not compete owing to an injury her horse has sustained. 


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Grew up in the Middle East, currently studying Arabic and Linguistics in central London. Write a lot...

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