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A Saudi Woman Discusses her Changing Society

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I don't know much about Saudi Arabia. And what little I DO know I have learned from news reports, some of which are probably viewed disapprovingly in the Kingdom. So I took my time responding to an offer to interview a Saudi woman with a successful and diverse background. I did not want to offend Nadia Mohammed Saleh Abuelsaud, the woman I was invited to interview, or anyone else, either out of ignorance or perceived knowledge.

But I decided to go ahead with an email interview because I had experienced a degree of success with the person who introduced me to her. He is an ex-pat American living in Saudi Arabia. In fact, based on his experience working for defense contractors abroad for four decades, my source had given me two interviews as the Trump administration came to an end. I trusted his judgment about the interview he was offering me. I also welcomed some information he sent me about the interview subject, Nadia Abuelsaud.

Nadia comes from a significant Saudi family; her late father graduated four decades ago from the first Saudi F-15 fighter-pilot class and retired as an Air Force General. She also expresses her views directly, as you will see in the interview, below. I also was impressed by her medical and business experiences, as well as a story about her efforts to learn to play tennis well, while in her 30s.

I decided to start the interview by recounting the tennis story. First, I wanted to confirm that it was accurate. And if accurate, I thought it could serve as a graceful way to explore Western notions about how women have been treated in the Kingdom and opportunities for them, in terms of education, employment, and social past times. Along the way, she also brought up Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the author of Vision 2030 (published in 2016), and extremists in her country whom she says are the exception, not the rule. The email interview, edited for clarity, follows:

I read about the start of your tennis career. The article read, "Nadia took up tennis at the age of 35, a later stage in her life than most players and following the birth of her four children. Two obstacles immediately presented themselves - finding a coach and finding a venue in a gender-segregated society. Nadia overcame the first by finding a tennis venue at a Jeddah hotel. She began her lessons in the heat of the day, clad in the traditional robes that women are, by tradition, compelled to wear in public in Saudi Arabia. Eventually, a male lodged a complaint that a woman was playing tennis at the hotel. The result was that women were thereafter banned from playing at the hotel where she had been taking lessons."

Please tell me more about the experiences you had as a strong, independent woman learning to play tennis in a traditional Muslim society. Were you nervous about bucking the established order? Did you get support from friends and family? How did men in Saudi Arabia come to view your actions over time? Are there other ways you demonstrated independence?

I believe what you mentioned in your first question, based on the article, summed up the story. But permit me to add some important and useful points here:

Since my childhood, I have been used to seeing some of my uncles (and they are 10 uncles by the way), and they practiced this fine sport of tennis regularly. And I used to accompany them to the court and cheer for them with great enthusiasm.

With regard to "extremists," our beloved Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the leader of Vision 2030, said, "We have never had this extremism and illogical strictness in our society, which started especially after the Juhaiman incident in Mecca in 1979, that cursed incident of the occupation of the Grand Holy Mosque in our beloved Mecca, by a handful of militants who exploited extremism by intentional misinterpretations of a few Qur'anic verses for authoritarian purposes that is never in line with what is actually written in the Muslims' holy book, the Quran. For God Almighty said, "Obey God and obey the messenger (Prophet Mohammed) and those in authority among you."

From this point of view, I will correct some of the inaccuracies in your questions that you posed and referenced about traditional strict Muslim society.

We are a Muslim society that believes in one God only, a society characterized by mercy, decency, and respect.

Our Holy Quran is for all believers of one God all around the world, regardless of race, and no one can be a Muslim unless he or she believes in Moses, Jesus, and all the prophets and that Mohammed (peace be upon him) is the last messenger for the same message: "Islam, which means complete surrender to one God ONLY."

What happened in Mecca was the beginning of the extremism that was introduced and unfortunately started to have a voice and followers. It took root.

In my view, MBS's Vision, after God's will, was delayed until the perfectly appropriate time for the fear that things would slip out of control in this always safe and peaceful country.

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Steve Schneider lives in Florida. He writes articles for Humor Times, Democracy Chronicles, The Satirist and OpEd News.

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