Not all Saudi women fighting for equal rights, freedoms
In what was widely taken as a signal of the king's defense of his project, Sheik Saad al-Shithri, a member of the Committee of the Higher Ulema, the kingdom's highest religious body, was fired last October after criticizing gender mixing at Kaust on a television call-in show.
Two months later, Sheik Ahmad al-Ghamdi, the head of Mecca's branch of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, caused a sensation when he told the daily newspaper Okaz that gender mixing was "part of normal life."
In February, Sheik Abdul Rahman al-Barrak, another prominent cleric, issued a fatwa stating that proponents of gender mixing should be killed.
Whether it is the king's support, or simply the ever greater availability of digital social networks, campaigning is mushrooming on both sides of the women's rights divide, although Yousef's effort is among the few conservative ones led by a woman.
Still, even the most optimistic say that change will be slow. Hatoon al-Fassi, an assistant professor of women's history at King Saud University in Riyadh, explained that even the hint of breaking the taboo on gender mixing had been traumatic for many Saudis. "People had lived their whole lives doing one thing and believing one thing, and suddenly the king and the major clerics were saying that mixing was OK," Fassi said.
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