Vogue Arabia is facing backlash for featuring an image of Saudi Princess Hayfa Bint Abdullah Al Saud in the driving seat of a classic car on the cover of its June issue. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is putting women in the driving seat — and so are we," the publication said, referring to the country's imminent lifting of a decades-old ban on women driving in the country. The ban, which is set to be lifted on June 24, will mean women in the country can drive for the first time.
Though the issue promises to celebrate Saudi Arabia's "trailblazing women," critics claim the magazine completely glosses over a recent crackdown on women's rights in the country and a string of arrests of women's rights activists who had campaigned for the driving ban; at least 11 women who had campaigned against the ban were arrested and labeled "traitors" by the government in May, and while at least four of them were released last week, the others remain in prison, according to Amnesty International.
In her cover interview with Vogue Arabia, Princess Hayfa bint Abdullah al-Saud, a daughter of the late King Abdullah, is pictured looking glamorous in leather gloves and high heels. She is quoted as saying: “In our country, there are some conservatives who fear change. For many, it’s all they have known." She adds that she personally "support[s] these changes with great enthusiasm.”
But many people on social media have described Vogue's cover, and its accompanying interview with the princess, as "tone deaf," with some photoshopping images of the detained activists over the princess's face, and accusing the publication of "telling the wrong story."
After @VogueAlArabiya thought it’d make sense to feature HRH in June 2018 issue on “trailblazing women of #Saudi Arabia” & their driving, Saudi women have taken to Twitter to object & replaced her image with 3 of arrested activists labeled as “traitors”: Aziza, Loujain, & Eman. pic.twitter.com/SOZA28YS72— Nora Abdulkarim نورة الدعيجي (@Ana3rabeya) May 31, 2018
Let's put a princess who never struggled from the driving ban on the cover. Who her family issued the driving ban in the first place, put so many women in jail for driving, and just imprisoned prominent women's rights activists who risked their life and freedom to lift the ban.— Sara (@sassy1989sara) May 31, 2018
I'm laughing so hard that my irony glands are about to burst. A Saudi princess is on the cover of @VogueArabia to celebrate women finally being allowed to drive. Yet, her family is currently jailing the pioneering women that actually fought for that right. https://t.co/2dLXes4v5N— Biejan Poor Toulabi (@btoulabi) May 31, 2018
Saudia Arabia made global headlines last year when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that the notoriously conservative country would be lifting its decades-old driving ban. It is considered part of the his reforms intended to improve the image of the country, whose guardianship system requires women to seek permission from their fathers, brothers, husbands, and even sons for a wide range of life decisions from traveling and studying abroad, to getting married, and even being able to leave prison.
“It’s easy to comment on other people’s societies and think that your own society is superior, but people must remember that each country is specific and unique,” she says. “We have strengths and weaknesses but, invariably, it’s our culture, and it’s better to try to understand it than to judge it.”