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Queens of the Kingdom by Nicola Sutcliffe (Simon & Schuster £ 14.99, 384 pp)
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Queens of the Kingdom by Nicola Sutcliffe (Simon & Schuster £ 14.99, 384 pp)

Queens of the Kingdom by Nicola Sutcliffe (Simon & Schuster £ 14.99, 384 pp)

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Queens of the Kingdom

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by Nicola Sutcliffe (Simon & Schuster £ 14.99, 384 pp)

Are the women in Saudi Arabia posing as privileged, spoiled princesses, or infantilized victims, controlled from birth to death by the whims of tyrannical men?

Has life improved for Saudi women since the driving ban was lifted in 2018? Can you or I tolerate living there even for a single day?

& # 39; No & # 39; is my determined answer to that third question, after reading this moving, dazzling book by Nicola Sutcliff, a writer who knows the country from the inside.

She taught at a women's university there – a university surrounded by high walls and guarded by male guards, where no woman can ever go outside unless accompanied by her male guardian – so a mother can never take her daughter for lunch.

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Sutcliff has interviewed 28 Saudi women from all walks of life, almost all of whom have ever been called by a religious police in a mall because they have not covered their faces well.

& # 39; Cover, cover, cover! & # 39; Is what you hear barking all day long through bearded religious preys in those shopping centers.

While these women talk about their daily lives, you feel the overwhelming respect they have received to feel for the Islamic traditions of their country.

In Saudi Arabia, the patriarchal family is sacred. From the moment a girl menstruates, she cannot fraternize with someone of the opposite sex until the day of her marriage, which is usually arranged for someone she has never met. You can even end up in jail if you have a cup of coffee with a boy.

These women respect and obey every word of the Qur'an – & # 39; it's like a law book, a psychologist, and a medical encyclopedia in one, & # 39; a woman says.

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But, unsettling and noteworthy, they have asked to be anonymous in this book, to prevent them from getting into trouble with their male guardians for daring harmless (but actually inflammatory) comments, such as these:

& # 39; If I'm honest and my husband doesn't listen, I sometimes miss the wind on my face, especially & # 39; in the evening. & # 39;

& # 39; I hate wearing the niqab. You can smell your own breath there. & # 39;

& # 39; I always dream of renting a house on the coast, so my sisters and friends can take a little vacation. But I can't because I don't have a mahram (male guardian) to sign the papers. & # 39;

& # 39; I think polygamy should be made illegal. It causes women to become deeply depressed. & # 39;

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& # 39; A woman's guardian is her abuser. It is a mechanism of control. & # 39;

& # 39; I long to visit my son, who lives in the United States, but my husband should sign the consent papers. & # 39;

& Women here – we are just used – for cooking, for cleaning, for going to bed. They have brought us back to nothing. & # 39;

It goes on and on: a catalog of oppression, oppression and repression, quietly spoken under the soothing reassuring feelings of happiness. Saudi women are indoctrinated to believe that they are much happier than the unfortunate women in the West, who have been sexualized from a young age, are expected to earn their own bread, and not the & # 39; privilege & # 39; have a male guardian for & # 39; protect them from the cradle to the grave.

Women are indeed allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia now, but there is a seven-month waiting list for lessons, and most women are so brainwashed that they believe that if their car breaks down, they will be sexually assaulted by the first man who comes by, that they prefer to keep their expensive driver.

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Not that there are some impressive pioneering career women here, as Sutcliff shows us. Women can now get jobs without the permission of their guardian.

We meet & # 39; Rana & # 39 ;, a fashion designer who designs abayas (the obligatory wide coats) and says: & # 39; Under my abaya, I wear clothing from designers around the world! & # 39;

And & # 39; Mashael & # 39 ;, who set up a women's team in which all members are self-taught because there is no sport at the girls' schools. And & # 39; Samira & # 39 ;, the first Saudi woman to graduate in engineering. As well as & # 39; Munirah & # 39 ;, a young newspaper journalist.

While these women talk about their great career success, they quietly slip into less pleasing truths: Rana agreed to an arranged marriage and says that if her husband dies young, she is expected to ask her own son for permission to travel . From the age of 15, sons become the protectors of their own mother if they have no husband, father or brother.

& # 39; But I want people outside to know that we are very happy! & # 39 ;, says Rana. & # 39; We have the big advantage that it is taken care of. Even if I earn a salary, I am not obliged to support the household. & # 39; (That's the man's job.)

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Mashael lets that slip as she and her soccer team travel across the country to play matches, & we are very careful to move in small groups to prevent abuse by the religious men at the airport & # 39 ;. And & # 39; our equipment is all hidden under our abayas & # 39; s & # 39 ;.

Sutcliff has interviewed 28 Saudi women from all walks of life, almost all of whom have ever been called by a religious police in a mall because they have not covered their faces well. (Stock photo)

Sutcliff has interviewed 28 Saudi women from all walks of life, almost all of whom have ever been called by a religious police in a mall because they have not covered their faces well. (Stock photo)

Sutcliff has interviewed 28 Saudi women from all walks of life, almost all of whom have ever been called by a religious police in a mall because they have not covered their faces well. (Stock photo)

And Munirah reveals that her brother was so embarrassed when he first saw her name in print, that he was holding a gun to her head. She also admitted that she had recently rejected a long-awaited opportunity to travel to the US because her father and brothers refused to give her permission.

This desert area, Sutcliff argues, is so fast & # 39; straight from tent to penthouse & # 39; that society had not had time to catch up. There are many weird deviations: the flashy modern coexistence with the cruel Middle Ages.

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For example, once girls walk through the door to their women's university, & # 39; cloaks and veils are thrown away to reveal a rainbow of hairstyles, piercings, false eyelashes and designer handbags & # 39 ;.

The average Saudi woman spends $ 3,000 (£ 2,368) annually on cosmetics. Behind closed doors, in a completely feminine company, they plaster themselves with makeup and are all addicted to YouTube and Snapchat: Saudi's are the most productive users in the world.

But if you are caught with illegal sexual intercourse, either before marriage or adultery, you can expect to be sentenced to a year in prison and 100 lashes.

After completing your sentence, you cannot leave prison unless you are taken care of by your male guardian – and he may be so ashamed of your behavior that he will not pick you up and you will languish within years.

The 21st century is knocking at the door. Divorce rates have risen sharply – up to 45 percent – because women are waking up to the enlightened world they've seen on YouTube and refusing to stay with their violent spouses (domestic violence has finally been recognized as a crime), or to help remain seated while their husbands hire several women (the legal limit is four).

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& # 39; The younger women break the culture & # 39 ;, says & # 39; Halla & # 39 ;, a 58-year-old doctor in Jeddah. & # 39; They do many things that we should never do. . . Change is only because each country cares about how other countries view them. & # 39;

With this book the outside world can look very closely at how things are still going in Saudi Arabia.

Let's hope that if the magnifying glass is kicked on, everything will be gently focused on the very first Starbucks boy and girl campaign in the kingdom.

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