Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has cast himself as a reformer, advocating equality for women and granting them the right to drive.
But in the past few days, Saudi activists who called for exactly those things were arrested, accused by the authorities of undermining national security and branded “traitors” in pro-government newspapers.
The unusually vicious state-led crackdown has targeted Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights advocates, including activists who led the first protests against the driving ban decades ago and were jailed for their defiance.
The arrests have been puzzling for their timing — occurring just weeks before the driving ban is set to be lifted. But Saudis have also been stunned by the gravity of the charges and the deeply personal attacks on the activists, whose pictures were circulated in government-friendly media outlets in what human rights groups called a smear campaign intended to silence calls for women’s rights. [Continue reading…]