As Saudi Arabia Relaxes Restrictions, Music Returns To Jeddah After Four Decades

Thursday, 24 May, 2018

Authorities in Saudi Arabia released a prominent member of the movement for women's right to drive on Wednesday, days after she was detained in a wave of arrests targeting rights activists that drew worldwide criticism.

Activists told the Journal that on the day of the announcement they received calls from the Saudi government banning them from speaking to the media or even praising the move. Activists had said al-Mana previously suffered a stroke and were concerned for her health while under arrest.

Despite apparently complying with Saudi Arabia's attempts to silence her - Hathloul's last tweet to her 316,000 followers was on March 12 - she was arrested again last week in what appeared to be a particularly brutal crackdown on female activists in the kingdom.

Bin Farhan further explained that the arrest spree of the powerful figures by bin Salman has created much resentment within the royal family against the crown prince, noting, "The family feels it has been humiliated".

The prince also warned that Europe and the USA would have to "foot the bill" of the collapse of the Saudi state, which he said is the direction the country is headed.

Following the appointment of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to his role in June 2017, Saudi Arabia has been taking bold steps towards transforming its economy and society, particularly by promoting its entertainment, arts, culture, and leisure sectors.

People familiar with the arrests say the activists were allowed just one phone call to anxious relatives a week ago, and that one of the women has been held entirely incommunicado.

"The crown prince, who has styled himself as a reformer with Western allies and investors, should be thanking the activists for their contributions to the Saudi women's rights movement", Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director said in a statement.

Saudi media say the arrests were carried out by forces from the Presidency of State Security, a body that reports directly to the king and crown prince.

"Their motives have nothing to do with human rights activities at all, as they have used human rights activism as nothing but a cover to hide their true actions" according to Salman Al-Ansari, the founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee.

Saudi authorities on Saturday announced the arrest of seven people, mostly identified by rights groups as women who have long campaigned for the right to drive and to end the conservative Muslim state's male guardianship system. She also established a $2 million endowment to support Saudi and Arab women at the American University of Beirut who are studying advanced degrees in nursing and health sciences.

He was allegedly photographed at the opening of the Qiddiya project, Saudi Arabia's biggest cultural, sports and entertainment site, on April 28, but he has been absent from several major state meetings and ceremonies held in recent weeks.

One of the detained, Loujain al Hathloul, told The Telegraph at the time, "Shutting up or submitting to these threats is unacceptable to me, it is not an option to stay quiet any more. It's alarming", she said.

Saudi authorities have released two of the leading women's rights activists, Aisha al-Manea on May 23 and Hessa al-Sheikh on May 24.

During an interview with CBS News in March before a trip to the United States, the crown prince stated: "Saudi women still have not received their full rights". A pro-government Twitter account posted images of those arrested with the word "traitor" splattered in red across their faces.

The woman activist said the onslaught was a warning to anyone who hoped for change. "It might be an overreaction to please the traditionalists, as we come to the date of women being allowed to drive". I think a lot of the goal of the façade was to placate forces outside of Saudi Arabia and not really for the Saudi people themselves, " he told RT.