OPINION: What’s behind Saudi’s runaway girl?


by Areej al-Jahani

She needs to realize that living in a foreign country is extremely difficult and that there is no country like home. The past year was a good year for Saudi women and many of the rules on the ground changed in her favor.

Is there is any foreign conspiracy behind the Saudi teenager’s escape or was it purely a family matter? To answer this question, I will have to write two articles discussing all aspects of the case. Therefore, I will consider this article to be the first part of the series.

First, what happened with Rahaf Alqunun? Why did this girl escape from her secure family environment and threw herself into the unknown? Can anyone talk with this girl to find out what really happened? At the same, can anyone engage in a dialogue with her family members, who have been silent on the matter till now? The family, however, has the right to voice their side of the story.

Rahaf chose her fate. Escaping to an unknown country, which is strange to her cultural environment, is an unsafe path for a girl of Rahaf’s age. But it is important to protect her and calmly engage her in a dialogue, away from an atmosphere of anger and tension.

I will talk about the reasons why girls escape and the problems they face in the second part of my article. I will focus here on why the issue of Rahaf was magnified in the media and her news reached all corners of Planet Earth. It is not strange that any negative news related to Saudi Arabia grabs the attention of the international media and it is used to attack Saudi Arabia. This happens whenever there is a voice that speaks against Saudi society. It is normal to differ, but it is totally unacceptable to use this difference of opinion to stab a country in the back. We should never let our problems to degrade the reputation of our society.

What really happened and caused this international escalation? Did this girl do what she did on her own volition because of her ignorance and innocence, or was she misguided by someone?

The way our embassy dealt with this issue from the beginning was not up to the desired level. This scenario of denial and rejection was repeated again and again. Many of the government departments intentionally put the country in an awkward situation in front of the international community by their dereliction of duty or by being weak at crisis management.

Let us review a statement the embassy gave to the Sabaq news website. It said the girl was detained because she violated the law of the country.

The question that rises here is why the embassy did not assign a lawyer to follow up the case. Why didn’t the embassy get involved as a mediator to protect the girl? Why didn’t the embassy carry out its social responsibility in taking care of a citizen in distress in a foreign country?

The embassy spokesman told Sabaq that the girl might have been battered and they knew nothing more than that. The embassy even stated that it was an internal family matter, according to Al-Arabiya channel.

The international community does not recognize these statements as reasons for not allowing a person the freedom to travel. Do you see how the issue has turned out to be a foreign conspiracy? Did the embassy have their reasons for not standing by Rahaf? Why didn’t any embassy official come out to say to Rahaf, “Don’t worry, we will be on your side until you are safe?”

This was a perfect chance to protect the girl from the dangers of going to an unfamiliar territory and to stop this vicious campaign against the Kingdom.

I also wonder why we did not hear of any attempt to resolve this issue or at least calm it down, whether on the part of Saudi businesswomen or the government departments that care for social issues such as the Ministry of Labor and Social Development. I followed the Twitter account of the ministry and its official spokesman but did not see any comment on this matter? Is this how we are afraid of facing our problems?

We do not hesitate to say the whole affair is the result of a foreign conspiracy. But a case like that of Rahaf raises many questions. Those who call for punishing her for fleeing the country are the same ones who have called for restricting her freedom as an independent woman.

Before we demand to punish the girl, we need to think about what do we want to get out of it. Does our silence means our reluctance as a society to extend a helping hand to the girl and give her guidance, regardless of whether her story was true or not, and to really understand her problem? Why were we silent about her until the international media and our enemies reached out to her? We all know how the world is conspiring against us now more than ever. The question here is: Are officials going to improve their ways when dealing with such matters? Or are we going to witness more embarrassment on the international stage?

We would have done better in dealing with this case. What we need to do now is to activate crisis management and to train spokesmen who can speak on behalf of the country and really understand how to deal with a problem. There is a huge difference when someone says, “It is a family issue”, or “She is a Saudi citizen and we need to stay by her”. With due respect to everyone and all the efforts made, I want to emphasize that we should be extremely careful when dealing with international files.

In the case of Rahaf, despite her mistake, we could have contained the issue quietly. Now she needs to think about what is awaiting her. She needs to realize that living in a foreign country is extremely difficult and that there is no country like home. The past year was a good year for Saudi women and many of the rules on the ground changed in her favor.

The last thing I want say to Rahaf is: “No matter how big was your mistake, you have a country to come back to. Family problems can be dealt with. You need education and support, even if it means you continue your education abroad and then return home. Give yourself time to think. All what I wish for is for you to be fine and to understand that the anger of the Saudi people toward your action is not comparable with the country that loves you. The country is the mother who embraces her children when they come back home.”

Areej al-Jahani is a regular Op-Ed columnist for Okaz Daily.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Milli Chronicle’s point-of-view.

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