Will Vogue Arabia's June 2018 Celebration Of Saudi Women Speak To Current Arrests & Imprisonment Of Saudi Women Who Led Driving Campaign?

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Vogue Arabia's June 2018 issue celebrates the TRAILBLAZING women of SAUDI ARABIA, featuring HRH Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah Al Saud on its cover. The image is meant to celebrate the and of the Saudi kingdom's ban on women driving that will take effect on June 24, applying to women of all nationalities. 

Saudi Arabia also approved a measure to criminalize sexual harassment, reported in The National today. “[The legislation] aims at combating the crime of harassment, preventing it, applying punishment against perpetrators and protecting the victims in order to safeguard the individual’s privacy, dignity and personal freedom which are guaranteed by Islamic law and regulations,” a statement from the 150-member Shura Council, the formal advisory body to the Saudi government, said on Tuesday.

The entire June 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia will be dedicated to Saudi Arabia. HRH Hayfa bint Abdullah Al Saud, an artist, mother of three and the daughter of the late King Abdullah, who was the ruler of Saudi from 2005 until his death in 2015, sits behind the wheel of a vintage red 1980s Mercedes 450 SL, making it clear that she will join the new movement of Saudi women drivers.

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Boo George shot the cover in the desert outside Jeddah.

There is a negative side to the celebrations around the new women drivers campaign in Saudi Arabia. In what feels like a giant contradiction to the new freedoms for Saudi women, the activists who made the movement happen are being arrested. 

Over the past two weeks, about 13 women's rights activists have been arrested. Including Loujain al-Hathloul, an activist with a large social media presence; Eman al-Nafjan, a blogger and activist; and Aisha al-Manea, a veteran driving activist. All three women were public leaders of the campaign, which AOC has long supported.

“What the Saudi authorities seem to be trying to do is to make it clear that firstly, any reform taking place is only due to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” says Rothna Begum, the women’s rights researcher on the Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch. “They are attempting to revise the history of the actual activism that took place by these women’s rights activists. “

In a campaign that sounds positively Trumpian, Saudi authorities issued a statement denouncing the women activists, claiming that they had breached national unity, that they were in contact with foreign organizations, and they were getting funding from outside the country. Local state media outlets publish and broadcast pictures of the Saudi women activists calling them traitors. And a social media campaign sounding like it was created by Donald Trump in a 5am Twitter blast bears the hashtag #EmbassyStooges or #EmbassySpies.

International activists wonder if this ban will discourage Saudi women from actually exercising their legal right to drive. 

The international community has been largely silent in the face of these arrests, and we will not join that silence.  Al Jazeera English reports on Wednesday, May 30 that six women and three men associated with overturning the driving ban remain in custody and face 20 years in prison.. The UN did intervene this week, calling on Saudi Arabia to provide information about all the prominent activists - mostly women -- who for years urged reforms that are now being implemented. Speaking to Al Jazeera English on Wednesday, Rothna Begum added:

"It is shocking that Saudi Arabia is detaining prominent women's rights defenders - the real champions behind the lifting of the driving ban - just before they allow all women the right to drive."