Risking her life of comfort and stature by her own admission, Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdul Aziz, a Saudi royal living in London, made bold calls for reform in her country during a wide-ranging interview with the U.K.’s Independent newspaper. The rare criticism from inside the royal family — and by a woman from a nation with pervasive gender issues, to boot — came from the youngest child of the country’s second king, Saud.
While avoiding direct criticisms of her uncle King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s current ruler, the 47-year-old Basma blamed ministers for incompetence and lamented lack of accountability for the wealthy. She reserved her sharpest criticisms for the Saudi religious police — officially the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices, but known as the mutawa. She blamed them for sectarianism, sexism, and labeled them “dangerous” for society:
This is the atmosphere you have now. It is such a non-tolerant atmosphere, even of other sects….
Our religious police has the most dangerous effect on society — the segregation of genders, putting the wrong ideas in the heads of men and women, producing psychological diseases that never existed in our country before, like fanaticism. The mutawa are everywhere, trying to lead society to a very virtuous life that doesn’t exist. Everything is now behind closed doors.
Basma is no stranger to criticizing the ills of the country her family rules as an absolute monarchy. In July, she called this year’s Saudi invasion and repression of Shia-dominated pro-democracy protests in Bahrain a “faux pas” while talking with the BBC. The divorcée and business woman told the Independent she recently faced pressure to self-censor her writings, which deal with issues such as poverty and women’s rights.
Basma said the recent campaign by Saudi women to win the right to drive — which has won international plaudits but met opposition from Saudi religious authorities — did not go far enough. “Why don’t we actually fight for a woman’s right even to complain about being beaten up,” she said. “That is more important than driving.” (HT: Sultan Al Qassemi)