Saudi authorities backtrack on description of feminism as extremism

Reuters

Posted at Nov 13 2019 05:10 AM

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia's state security agency distanced itself on Tuesday from a promotional video that categorized feminism, homosexuality and atheism as extremist ideas, blaming it on an action by individuals.

The animated clip was posted on Twitter at the weekend by a verified account of the State Security Presidency which reports directly to the king. It has since been removed.

In a statement published by state television, the security agency said the video contained a number of mistakes in defining extremism, and that the individuals who made the video did not do their job properly.

In a separate statement, the state-affiliated Saudi Human Rights Commission said feminism was not a crime and that the kingdom "accords the utmost importance to women's rights."

Neither statement referenced homosexuality and atheism -which have long been illegal and punishable by death in the absolute monarchy.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for a more moderate form of Islam and promoted nationalist sentiment under his ambitious reform strategy that aims to open up society and attract foreign investment to diversify the oil-dependent economy.

He has loosened social restrictions and launched a tourist visa and, as Saudi Arabia prepares to take over the presidency of the Group of 20 countries next year, Riyadh has chipped away at a guardianship system that assigns each woman a male relative to approve important decisions throughout their lives.

But the authorities have also cracked down on dissent, arresting scores of critics including clerics, intellectuals and activists.

Nearly a dozen women's rights advocates were detained some weeks before a ban on women driving - which they had campaigned against - was lifted last year. Activists and diplomats speculated that the arrests may have been a message that reform would happen only at the government's initiative.