How a princess can help Saudi women find their voice
It's time for Saudi women to beat conservative clerics at their own game by publishing op-eds, using Twitter, and blogging. I know just the woman to help them get started: Princess Ameerah al-Taweel. She should champion a successful US model, The OpEd Project.
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Their power comes from royal patronage and state-sanctioned “official” Islam, including religious police. But their enhanced influence of today stems from the media, especially social networks.Skip to next paragraph
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The clerics rapidly fill columns on opinion pages as the princess pointed out in a September interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. They also mobilize the population through Twitter feeds. In contrast to their Luddite image, radical clerics were among the early adopters of social media in Saudi Arabia. Their tweets go out by the millions, many of them against women, including warning against sending Saudi women athletes to the Olympics. That particular effort thankfully failed, and the kingdom’s first judo athlete competed in London last summer, as well as a track athlete who holds dual US-Saudi citizenship.
Clerics or not, the number of Twitter users in Saudi Arabia is exploding. Saudis are the fastest growing group on the social networking site, with usage rising 3,000 percent in just one month last year, according to Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo.
Saudi women can beat the clerics at their own game. Among Muslim women, Saudis are some of the most educated, with mandatory education until the age of 16 ensuring high rates of literacy. The majority of university graduates in Saudi Arabia are women (58 percent), though women account for only 15 percent of the workforce.
Princess Ameerah and her organization are in an ideal position to build on this solid literate foundation and launch Saudi women into the socially networked sphere of citizen journalism, micro-blogging, and self-publishing.
The battle for women’s advancement – waged across broadsheets and twitter feeds – will be long and slow, but worthy, and ultimately won. It is unlikely to resemble the incendiary masses that the world has grown accustomed to in the two years since the Arab Spring exploded across TV, phone, and computer screens.
Instead, change in Saudi Arabia will demand a small cabal of influential, articulate “opinionistas” – willing and persuasive voices who publish and publish often. Only when The OpEd Project comes to Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, and Mecca, will Saudi women be heard in their own authentic voices.
[Editors note: The original version incorrectly identified Princess Ameerah al-Taweel's husband.]
Qanta A. Ahmed, an alumna of The Op-Ed Project, is the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women,” detailing her life in Saudi Arabia. She is associate professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Follow Dr. Ahmed on Facebook, Twitter (@MissDiagnosis), and her Huffington Post blog.