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Freshman who lived eight years in Saudi Arabia has high hopes for new women’s rights

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(Photo used by permission of MoheyEldin)
Freshman Layla MoheyEldin and her family and friends frolic in the sand dunes at a spot in the desert less than 60 minutes from Mecca.

After spending their entire lives with their movement restricted by their husband’s schedule or their ability to afford a chauffeur, women in Saudi Arabia can now obtain licenses and drive on their own.

Even though she and her mother were born in the U.S. and her father is from Egypt, freshman Layla MoheyEldin was relieved to hear the news because she lived in Saudi Arabia for eight years.

However, MoheyEldin lived in a compound around a university in Saudi Arabia (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), where customs were slightly different.

“It is the only university in the kingdom that men and women can attend (together),” MoheyEldin said.

“The Human Resources group had a policy that if you worked in the compound and you or someone in your family did something against Saudi law, such as drinking, they would end your contract and send you on an airplane that night as to avoid getting in trouble with Saudi authorities.”

(Photo used by permission of MoheyEldin)
Freshman Layla MoheyEldin and a friend on a snorkeling expedition in the Red Sea.

Due to the compound’s allowing only families who worked at the school, there were very few people there.

So MoheyEldin was a part of many different clubs or teams at the school, including the swim team, the Model United Nations club and the play.

However, all the people MoheyEldin went to school with lived in the less strict compound.

Though the university itself was coed and fairly progressive, that mindset didn’t apply to women’s jobs outside of the compound.

“The jobs aren’t restricted by gender, but if a woman and a man are both equally qualified for a job, generally the man gets it.” MoheyEldin said. “It’s hard for women to get a job because they can’t drive.”

Even though women will be able to drive in June 2018, they still can’t wear makeup in public or clothes that are revealing of skin, which, along with religious reasons, is why most Saudi Arabian women cover their heads with a hijab and their bodies with an abaya when they leave their houses.

“I would want to go to the mall or go shopping, and my mom and I had to wait for our dad to get home,” MoheyEldin said.

“It’s not only the driving. I’m more annoyed by the concept that women really have no rights there.”

And many people agree. Human Rights Watch, for example, is asking people to tweet at Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdulaziz to end male guardianship.

They also aren’t allowed to talk to men they aren’t related to unless it’s necessary, to swim or even look at swimming pools, or to try on clothes before buying them.

(Photo used by permission of MoheyEldin)
Freshman Layla MoheyEldin and her family hike around Madain Salah, an ancient Arabian village carved into the mountains of Saudi Arabia.

Most importantly, they aren’t allowed to make any major decision without a male guardian’s consent.

“My old neighbor was really against the treatment his wife and other Saudi Arabian women received,” MoheyEldin said.

“When his wife would get on a plane, even for flights inside the country, he would get an email asking him to confirm that he allowed her to leave.”

Salman has worked with political activists to allow women more rights, such as the right to get a job or undergo surgery without permission.

On Sept. 29, Salman also called on the interior minister to draft a law within the next 60 days condemning sexual assault.  

“I honestly think Salman has good intentions, even though the things he is doing should have been done years ago,” MoheyEldin said. “In a way, I feel like he is preparing the country for his son, who will be the first king of a much more modern third generation.”

—By Mehdi Lacombe

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