Following are excerpts from an interview with Saudi women's rights activist Wajiha Al-Huweidar, which aired on Al-Hurra TV on January 13, 2008:
Wajiha Al-Huweidar: We have raised a generation – I think it began with my own generation – on the belief that we are a special people, that we are the cradle of Islam, that the truth is ours and ours alone, that we are the Saved Sect of Islam. People have begun to believe all these lies, and they use them as pretexts. When we demanded that women be employed in public workplaces, they say: "No, we are a special people." When we demand that women be allowed to drive, they say: "No, we are a special people." No, we are not. In what way are we special? There is nothing special about us. True, we have the two holy cities – Mecca and Al-Madina – but this does not mean that we have a monopoly on religion, and that we are the only Muslims in the world.
This Saudi patriarchal culture has become prevalent under religious guise, but if you examine everything that goes on in this society, none of it has anything to do with religion. How can it be that people are stripped of their individual judgment, and the Commission [for the Prevention of Vice] is sent to spy on people in the streets, and to determine who errs and who acts properly? Who gave them the right to do this? People have the right to decide for themselves what they do and don't want.
Interviewer: Should women be allowed to decide this for themselves?
Wajiha Al-Huweidar: Of course. After all, they are like any...
Interviewer: Despite this commission?
Wajiha Al-Huweidar: This commission must be abolished, and the day will come when it will be. Look, the early signs that a wrong ideology is dying are fanaticism and extremism. This is obvious. Have you ever seen a dead body that is soft? When the person dies, the body becomes rigid. Similarly, this ideology will become increasingly rigid, and will reach the height of fanaticism, but it is constantly in the process of dying. Take a look at history. Let's examine what happened to the Church in Europe. It becomes rigid and persecuted ideologies, killing and burning scientists, until people rebelled against it, and this led to its collapse. History tells us that this holds true for all ideologies. Communism...
Interviewer: Are you seeing signs of this collapse?
Wajiha Al-Huweidar: This will not happen in our generation. It will take time, but it will happen.
We, in the East – and I am talking about the East in a broad sense, including Pakistan, Turkey, and the Kurds... The way I see it, these are all wretched people, wretched men. This is obvious. He who has nothing cannot give anything to others. These men have lost what could have given them a real sense of masculinity. They draw their masculinity from Islam, if they are Muslims, of if they are non-Muslims, from the customs and tradition of the very harsh society that gives men more rights than women. Hence, they do not draw any strength from within. In the case of our Saudi society, they draw their strength from the weakness of women too. Most women choose to be weak, because it makes their lives easier. The weaker the wife is, the stronger the husband feels. How can you rely on a man who does not draw his strength from within?
Do not forget that Eastern men are oppressed both by society and by the authorities. Men face the authorities more than women, and the authorities in Eastern countries are very harsh, to the point that a person can vanish, without anybody ever knowing what happened to him.
Saudi men strut around like peacocks, as they say, because they were given more than they deserve, and they have authorities beyond what they are capable of bearing. The Saudi man believes he should be president. The moment he graduates from university, he wants to become president. I know that men will say that I am generalizing, but I am talking about the phenomenon, about the vast majority. How come you can hardly find any Saudi laborers? My father was a laborer, and so were many of his generation.
I do not understand why there is no room for other religions in the vast land of Saudi Arabia. To this day, there is no church for the Christians, no synagogue for the Jews, and temple for the Hindus, even though they constitute a large part of the foreign communities in Saudi Arabia. There are 6-8 million of these people.
Interviewer: There is the notion that Saudi Arabia is the cradle of Islam, as you've said, and that it is the most conservative Islamic conservative Islamic country. That is the response you usually get to such questions.
Wajiha Al-Huweidar: Why do we fear other religions? What frightens us? We should have confidence in ourselves and in our religion. There is no religious text that prohibits the establishment of a church or a temple of any religion. If they want to oppose this in Mecca or Al-Madina – there could be a justification for this, but in the other cities, where there are many foreign workers... How can this be justified? It could be justified because these cities are holy to Muslims, even though Mecca... In my opinion, Mecca should be opened to all the Muslim and non-Muslim peoples of the world. How come the Sheik of the Haram Mosque, to this day, comes from the same family and from the same region – Najd.
Interviewer: What family?
Wajiha Al-Huweidar: It is passed down from father to son in the Subayyil family. Why only this family, and why must it be a family from Najd? How come Saudis have a monopoly on Islam? Are the Saudis the only Muslims? If we want to spread the notion of tolerance towards other religions and sects, the Haram Mosque should be given to the different sects.
Interviewer: Which sects?
Wajiha Al-Huweidar: All of them. Why must the Sheik of the Haram Mosque be of the Hanbali school? Why can't there be a Hanbali sheik one day, and on other days, sheiks form the Shafe'i, Maliki, Hanafi, Ja'fari, and Isma'ili schools? Why can't there be sheiks of other nationalities? Why only Saudis?
Saudi society is based on enslavement – the enslavement of women to men and of society to the state. People still do not make their own decisions, but it is the women of Saudi Arabia who have been denied everything. The Saudi woman still lives the life of a slavegirl. So in what way are we different from Guantanamo? At least in the case of Guantanamo, many prisoners have been releases, while we remain in this prison, and nobody ever hears of us. When will we be freed? I don't know.