Tariq al-Mubarak, Saudi blogger and columnist for the London-based Arabic paper Asharq al-Awsat, has been in the custody of the Saudi Interior Ministry since October 27. The previous day several dozen women defied the informal driving ban by getting behind the wheel. None of them was arrested. But Mubarak had earlier written a column arguing that Saudi women need to be emancipated. Apparently elements in the Saudi government didn’t like that.
He was lured to the Interior Ministry, according to news reports, about a supposedly stolen car. But when he arrived, he was interrogated about his role in the women’s rights campaign. He has not been permitted to see his family or a lawyer.
The aged king Abdullah is regarded as rather a moderate or liberal—in the Saudi context, suggesting that he would like to improve the status of women in the kingdom. But he does not hold absolute power; the religious establishment can, and does, push back. Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef is—again in the Saudi context—a relatively, young, fresh face. But “young” is not the same as “liberal,” in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else. Perhaps it was easier to arrest the writer than chase down the women drivers. At any rate, Saudi Arabia remains a backwards place concerning both women’s rights and freedom of expression.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and others have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Tariq al-Mubarak