Action And Reaction

I can still remember some high school physics.  There is a law called Newton’s third law of motion.  Simply stated, it says: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  For years, Saudi Arabia’s religious police have been strictly enforcing the country’s sex segregation law, which bans co-mingling of sexes outside of one’s immediate family. Now a Saudi religious police officer has learnt first hand that Newton’s third law of motion is true – he was attacked by a Saudi women whom he was checking for possible breach of the sex segregation law.  This attack could well be the result of a pent up frustration against this sex segregation law, and depending on what the authorities do next, it may represent a turning point for this unpopular law.

The Action By A Religious Police Officer

The story begins with a young couple walking together in an amusement park in the eastern city of Hofuf Mubarraz in Saudi Arabia  .  What happened next was not amusing.  The couple was spotted by a Saudi religious police officer who promptly pulled them over for interrogation. Now the officer is from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or more commonly known as the Saudi religious police.

The religious police officer asked the couple to identify themselves, and to declare their relationship to one another.  It is not clear what exactly happened next, but according to one report, the young man immediately collapsed.  Did he faint? Or did he die of a heart attack?  The press report did not provide any answer.

The Reaction By The Woman

But the press report is clear on what happened next.  The woman flew into a rage.  She started to assualt the religious police officer even before the officer could react to the collapse of the male person. Did the collapse of her male companion provoke this reaction?  In any event, this unidentified woman, believed to be in her mid-twenties, reacted like a boxing champ, punching the religious police officer repeatedly on his head and his upper torso.  And like a boxing champ, she apparently scored a technical knock out – the religious police office was taken to hospital with severe bruising.

Possible Reaction By The Religious Police

So what should the religious police do about this assault on one of its officers in the course of his duty.  In the ordinary course of events, the woman would have been charged with assualting the officer.  That would mean a long stay behind bars, and possibly multiple lashings of the cane.  But so far, neither the local police nor the religious police have commented on this case. 

Other Reactions

This case has been widely publicised and discussed in the Saudi media. And the public opinion seems to be supportive of the woman’s action.  Wajiha Al Huwaidar, a human rights activist said: “People are fed up with these religious police, and now they have to pay the price for the humiliation they put people through for years and years. To see resistance from a woman means a lot… This is just the beginning and there will be more.”

Nadya Khalife, researcher for Human Rights Watch said: “There is some sort of change taking place. But it’s not quite clear what’s happening and it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”

Think About It

Does Saudi Arabia’s sex segregation law make sense in today’s context?  This law bars unmarried men and women from mixing.   Women must be chaperoned in public by a male guardian, often a relative, at all times.  Amongst other things, Saudi women are not allowed to drive vehicles as well.  Now with the access to cyberspace, Saudi women are beginning to resist these sex segregation and male guardianship laws.  The question is whether this case will prove to be the turning point for the unpopular sex segregation law.  Will it finally and effectively be repealed?

Previous posts

Sheikh Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamidi Clarifies Comments On Sex Segragation
Call To Change Saudi Sex Segregation Law
Saudi Cleric Calls For Death Sentence On “Modernisers” Calling For End To Sex Segregation
Saudi Arabia – New Campus Provides Freedom For Women

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