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'We want to change guardianship laws,' says Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman

The Saudi guardianship system gives male relatives control over women's lives [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 April, 2018

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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has acknowledged it is time for the kingdom to change strict guardianship laws imposed on women, according to a US magazine interview.
Saudi Arabia's de facto leader has told a US magazine that it was time to act on guardianship laws in the kingdom.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who in September lifted the driving ban on women, told The Atlantic that he was keen to change the repressive law that gives male relatives significant control over women's lives.
 
"Before 1979 there were societal guardianship customs, but no guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia," he said, referring to the year in which the Iranian revolution, and the Grand Mosque seizure in Mecca, caused a stricter enforcement of Islamic Sharia law.

"It doesn't go back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. In the 1960s women didn't travel with male guardians. But it happens now, and we want to move on it and figure out a way to treat this that doesn't harm families and doesn't harm the culture."
Read more: Saudi women are being drip-fed their rights
His remarks in an interview with The Atlantic's editor Jeffrey Goldberg come as the 32-year-old prince, known as MbS, conducts a charm offensive on his first official visit to the US including a White House meeting and push for investment in his Vision 2030 plan among Silicon Valley CEOs and billionaire businessmen.

Since becoming king-in-waiting in June 2017, Prince Mohammed has implemented some reforms on women's rights, pushing for greater participation in the workforce and opening up sports stadiums to female spectators.

But the ultra-conservative kingdom remains one of the most repressive countries for women.

Under Saudi Arabia's existing guardianship system, a male family member – normally the father, husband or brother – must grant permission for a woman's study, travel and a host of other activities.

When asked whether he would scrap the laws, MbS told Goldberg that the main obstacle was cultural differences among families. "Some families like to have authority over their members, and some women don't want the control of the men," he said.

"There are families where this is okay. There are families that are open and giving women and daughters what they want. So if I say yes to this question, that means I'm creating problems for the families that don't want to give freedom for their daughters.

"Saudis don't want to lose their identity but we want to be part of the global culture. We want to merge our culture with global identity."


He added, when asked whether the the kingdom, ruled by an absolute monarchy, could move to a democratic system, that: "What I can do is encourage the power of law. We would like to encourage freedom of speech as much as we can, so long as we don't give opportunity to extremism.

"We can improve women's rights, improve the economy. There is tension here, but we should do it."

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