To say that the Middle East is in turmoil is a major understatement when you consider the suffering and hardship endured by millions of ordinary Arab men, women and children right now. From East to West, though, they appear to have been abandoned in terms of news coverage.
The headline writers no longer care that Syria is still on fire, with the sky raining bombs from Assad’s forces, the Russians, Iranians, Americans, British and a host of other so-called interested parties, while all sorts of other troops and militias are committing unspeakable atrocities on the ground. In Yemen there’s a similar story unfolding, complicated further by a massive outbreak of cholera. Over in Iraq, the country has lurched from one man-made disaster to another ever since George W Bush’s “Shock and Awe” descended back in 2003.
Meanwhile, Palestine continues to haemorrhage from the injustices piled upon its people by a brutal Israeli occupation aided and abetted by Egypt and the Palestinians’ own — Western-backed — leadership in Ramallah. The humanitarian crisis which has existed in besieged Gaza for more than a decade has descended into a living hell for the Palestinians in the enclave who are now without power during incredibly hot days and surprisingly cold evenings. In the occupied West Bank, scores of ordinary people have been injured as Israel tightens its brutal grip on Islam’s third holiest site, The Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa.
In the light of such momentous events, the seriousness of the continuing blockade of Qatar looks like a minor inconvenience as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt attempt to exert ever more pressure on the seemingly unflappable Qataris.
Over in Riyadh, there has been much angst and table-thumping as the regime vents its anger, not at the stoicism of Qatar, or even the determination of the Palestinian resistance in the face of the Saudis’ new-found friends in Tel Aviv; no, the rulers of the Kingdom are outraged at the actions of a young woman who posted a video of herself wearing a miniskirt and crop-top in public. Calling herself Khulood, the short videos she has shared on social media have had some Saudi leaders in a lather.
The religious police — the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — said that its officers had been made aware of the videos and are in contact with the relevant authorities. As the hemline hit the headlines, you have to admit that no one can turn a storm in a teacup into a global issue like the Kingdom; it could only happen in Saudi Arabia.
The film of the woman walking around the historic fort in Ushayqir prompted calls for an urgent investigation into her identity and why she appears to have openly broken the country’s strict dress code. Most Saudi women go about their business wearing loose-fitting, full-length robes known as “abayas”, and with their heads covered.
Within hours Khulood was found and arrested by Saudi police who have also questioned her male guardian. State TV announced triumphantly that the woman who “dressed in indecent clothing” in Ushayqir had been “referred to the public prosecutor” while state-controlled newspapers reported that she had “confessed” to visiting the historic village with her guardian.
The writer and philosopher Wael Al-Gassim has been following the saga. He said that he was “shocked to see those angry, scary tweets” before adding: “I thought she had bombed or killed somebody. The story turned out to be about her skirt, which they did not like. I am wondering how Vision 2030 can succeed if she is arrested.” This was a reference to the reform programme unveiled last year by Saudi Arabia’s newly-appointed Crown Prince, 31-year-old Mohammed Bin Salman.
In the grand scheme of things a girl in a miniskirt is not a seismic event by most peoples’ standards but in the crazy world that is Saudi Arabia today you just know that Bin Salman is about to make matters a whole lot worse. The fact that a hemline can eclipse all other news coverage in the Middle East will no doubt frustrate and bewilder the millions of Arabs abandoned by their “brothers” and suffering from starvation, disease, hunger and war.
Furthermore, this is happening while pro-democracy activists are due to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia and Britain is doing all it can to appease the Kingdom for the sake of big business deals. How does this all fit with the famed “British values” that Theresa May’s government is pushing onto its own Muslim citizens? Can our values really be trampled on by the highest bidder whenever it suits May and her ministers to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses? It certainly looks that way.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.