Saudi football stadiums recently welcomed women for the first time. Saudi women from different age ranges went to stadiums and cheered for their favorite football team. These beautiful and historical scenes were the most trending in the past two days, and they’ll be engraved in our memories forever. Women, who for decades watched football games on television, now have the chance to go to stadiums.
Some parties outside Saudi Arabia have linked the delay of allowing women to enter stadiums to lack of awareness or to women themselves. For example, commenting on the decision to allow women to drive in the kingdom, some said: “Welcome to the 21st century.” This is a wrong reading because the brave governmental decisions cancelled obstacles that restricted the Saudi modern woman and cancelled double-standards in terms of her behavior inside and outside the country. More importantly, the government legalized women’s presence in public life after they were marginalized and distanced. The problem is not in women but in the suffocating restraints. Our joy is thus because she has now acquired this right as a complete being, even if she never watches a single match in her life.
It’s not about cheering for a football team or sitting behind a steering wheel. It’s actually about acknowledging women’s rights and freedoms to form a civilized and modern society which simply cannot advance when a wide category of it is marginalized and neglected.Mamdouh AlMuhaini
Women’s presence in stadiums is culturally important because it puts an end to one of the biggest illusions which a group of extremists has spread by intimidating the society of taking any steps forward and of granting women any simple rights as this will have dangerous consequences, such as the collapse of social and religious values. This illusion quickly shattered following the recent experience when women entered stadiums and joyfully cheered for their teams while raising flags in support of them. No values were violated and no morals were smeared!
This scenario keeps happening with every necessary step taken towards modernization; it’s met with opposition and intimidation. Some people would weave illusions that would last for decades in order to chain society; however, these illusions immediately shatter when people see the reality of these practices. Educating women and letting them work in the television in the past and letting them drive in addition to opening cinemas recently confronted a fierce opposition that often makes treacherous accusations. However, this eventually passed like nothing had happened. Even those who opposed modernizing measures eventually educated their daughters and will soon accompany them to watch matches in stadiums.
The recent decision has also shattered another illusion which is on the conflict among movements and which extremists had created to serve their interests. For example, they claimed a deviant enemy that’s conspiring against the conservative society is confronting another movement that seeks virtue. This excuse provided an enemy that’s easy to target and provided a tool to mobilize and incite people. Of course this would help them attract more supporters. This fabricated excuse led to divisions on self-evident causes, like women’s driving. However these divisions came to an end when the decision allowing them to drive was issued. Where is the conflict among movements now? There isn’t one because it’s a mere illusion. Truth is, simple and basic human rights cannot be controversial, or else, it’s like you are arguing with someone over his right to eat and drink.
It’s not about cheering for a football team or sitting behind a steering wheel. It’s actually about acknowledging women’s rights and freedoms to form a civilized and modern society which simply cannot advance when a wide category of it is marginalized and neglected. What’s significant about women’s presence is that illusions are shattering one after the other. The Saudi society is regaining its social health and getting rid of all the bad propaganda which was woven against it as it was pictured like a strange society that has strange rules and traditions that date back to the Middle Ages! This argument which western media outlets frequently repeated has declined following the recent decisions granting more rights to women. What really matters though is not what foreign parties say, even if it’s cruel, but it’s what individuals believe in regarding certain causes. This is what reflects the society’s awareness, civilization and respect of human rights and this is what will eventually influence its progress. The social law always reminds us that no society can advance when led by values and convictions that belong to the past. This is the difference between countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden and other countries drowning in poverty, violence and chaos.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.