Aiyah Saihati is a young Saudi writer and businesswoman who believes her country is on the move towards democracy.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times earlier this month, Saihati wrote that oil wealthy states are, “engaged in calibrated reforms and measured crackdowns,” and therefore will be less likely to democratize.
But she claims change will happen faster in Saudi Arabia.
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Aaron Schachter: I’m Aaron Schachter, this is The World. The turmoil of the Arab Spring has brought great changes to many countries in the Middle East, but not to Saudi Arabia. It remains a tightly controlled conservative monarchy, one that uses oil revenues to keep its population from demanding too much change. Still, some see an opening for democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia as the country’s rulers age and as Saudis push for a bigger say in their government. Young Saudi blogger, Aiyah Saihati says women are at the forefront of that change.
Aiyah Saihati: The gender inequality in Saudi Arabia is just to great that now it’s coming to boil. I mean it’s the women who are protesting and making a lot of noise, more than the men.
Schachter: As a young Saudi woman, what does democratic Saudi Arabia look like to you?
Saihati: My vision for Saudi would be a peaceful and collaborative transformation into a constitutional monarchy. I like having a king or queen as a figure head because it tempers the damaging shortsightedness that comes with cyclical democratic campaigning, you know, as we see in the United States, for example. People when they’re campaigning in four year or five year cycles, they tend to look at their score card according to short term goals rather than seeing some sort of continuity in the long term vision. And I believe that a kind can play a role in emulating the soul of the country in terms of the long term.
Schachter: How much influence do you think does the younger generation have, you and your peers, in transforming the political system in the kingdom?
Saihati: They have plenty of influence and they recognize it. I do believe that there is a united vision in the youth, generally speaking, in where they would like to see their country. We live in a technologically integrated global society, I mean everybody is a global citizen right now, especially the youth. And they are able to compare the freedoms different government assure for their populations and are able to examine what preferences they have for their own society.
Schachter: I think Americans just find themselves just sort of shocked because we get to talk to people like you and we see people like you on television because they’re the ones who speak English, and then we’re sort of shocked when people say no, no, no, we want an Islamic society. We don’t want America in the Gulf.
Saihati: I understand your question and I think that our point of view is that we’re proud people and we don’t want others to interfere in our domestic affairs unless we specifically ask for help. But also something really important to remember is as Muslims we do not believe there is a conflict between Islam and democracy. In fact, we believe that Islam is first philosophy that abdicated the values of equality, freedom and fraternity. I mean France, with Liberte, Egalite, fraternite came way later.
Schachter: Now you mentioned that women are in the forefront of change in Saudi Arabia, how so?
Saihati: Women realize they have more power because in a conservative society like Saudi Arabia when women are vocal it is a lot less likely that they are going to suffer consequences the way men would. That would just turn the society upside down if women in scores are being imprisoned. But also, there are so many women like me and far more advanced than me who are interested in playing roles in leadership, whether it’s in the private sector or a public service. And they are denied you know, the honor of serving as ambassadors and ministers in Saudi Arabia. This is why I think a lot of women are now being very vocal. I mean one of the universities, a all-women university in Saudi Arabia several months ago, the girls are unapologetic, their quite ready to see change.
Schachter: Aiyah Saihati is a business woman and writer. She joined us from New York City. Thank you so much.
Saihati: Thank you so much.
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