A Resilient Activist for Equality in the Middle East

For many years the activist Loujain Alhathloul has fought for Saudi women's right to drive. Unfortunately, raising her voice against the guardianship system took her freedom away.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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It was a road trip, the reason that put Loujain Alhathloul in jail. In 2014, she attempted to cross from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, where women were not allowed to drive. After 73 days in jail, she'd become the face of a movement.

Loujain was later pardoned by King Salman and told to keep quiet. The women rights activist focused her energies on ending the male guardianship system in the kingdom.

A year later, women were allowed to vote and stand in elections. The human rights defender ran, but her name was kept off the ballot. It wasn't long before public pressure appeared to show results. In 2017, Saudi Arabia announced women would be allowed to drive under crown prince Mohammed bin Salman's reforms.

According to Al Jazeera, some weeks before the ban was lifted, Loujain was stopped while driving in the UAE, flown to Riyadh, and later detained with around a dozen women's rights activists.

Nearly three years have passed, and her family has accused Saudi authorities of torturing and holding her in solitary confinement for months at a time. However, the officials denied the allegations.

In December 2020, Loujain was convicted at Riyadh's Specialized Criminal Court on terror charges for attempting to harm national security.

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Her release is seen as a gesture towards the Biden administration. Yahoo! News reports that Joe Biden supported her liberation, saying during a press conference, "she was a powerful advocate for women's rights, and releasing her was the right thing to do."

Washington also says it no longer shares intelligence with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and has committed to declassifying an intelligence report on the murder of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say long-overdue reforms are a bittersweet victory when the women who champion them remain in prison or facing unfair trials.

In the latest reforms announced by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman acknowledged that the judicial system had created many women's pains. However, he didn't mention Loujain or other women's rights activists specifically.

According to her sister, Alia Alhathloul, she may be out of prison, but she isn't yet free. DW reports that Loujain will remain on probation and isn't allowed to leave the kingdom.

The Guardian confirms that although she is at home, Loujain can't talk about her time in prison or seek help out of the country. This women's rights activist is a clear example of bravery and persistence. After almost three years convicted, she doesn't want to give up.

The authorities perceived her petition as a rebellion and a selfish way to change the Saudi political system. Nevertheless, she still wants to encourage other women to speak up and fight for their rights. Her story is painful, but future generations will enjoy the fruits of her efforts. Thanks to her, driving in her country is now also a right for women.

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