Imagine you were born a Muslim. Imagine, you renounced Islam. You don’t live in Germany, nor in the UK. You don’t even live in the US or another secular country. You live in Saudi Arabia, where renouncing Islam can cost your life. What would you do? Would you say it out loud? Really? You would, even after seeing what happened to Khashoggi?
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun managed to escape her relatives. She’s only 18, but was smart and courageous enough to seize the opportunity, when her family visited relatives in Kuwait. She escaped and headed to Australia via Thailand. Unfortunately, her father made sure, she was stopped in Thailand, her passport confiscated, and then she had to spend days in a limbo. Would she be send back to Saudi Arabia to face her father’s rage or would she manage to get to Australia? As she was determined to realise her freedom, she sought help online. Rahaf took to Twitter to let everyone know, that she was being held at Bangkok airport and the Saudi embassy was trying to force her to go back to Saudi Arabia. A lady on Twitter made Mona Eltahawy aware of the case and asked her for help. Mona started translating Rahaf’s tweets from Arabic into English.
This got things rolling. More and more people found out and retweeted, contacted embassies on Rahaf’s behalf and supported her with words. While she was detained in an airport hotel, she and her friends were mobilizing the whole world online to stand up for her and help her demand her freedom. Her father claimed she was mentally ill in the meantime, and Rahaf fought to get her passport back. “I’m afraid my family will kill me.”
Rahaf was scheduled for a flight back with Kuwait Airlines last Monday. While her case went viral with #freerahaf, people were trying to help in different ways. One lady recommended, “If someone in Thailand books a ticket on this flight, they can stand up and refuse to sit down.” Other called for people to get in contact with Kuwait Airlines. Others contacted all embassies in Bangkok to take care of Rahaf. When it was time to board the flight, her friends took over her account to make sure everyone knew it was happening then and there. Rahaf refused to leave her hotel room though. Finally, after Thai authorities had initially tried to undermine the contact to UNHCR, they finally backed down and allowed access to Rahaf. UNHCR Thailand took her under their protection.
Now, Rahaf has been granted refuge by Canada, she arrived there today. Her outrageous cry for help was amplified by people who sympathized with her. This actually took power away from her family in Saudi Arabia, who was trying to abduct her with the help of Thai airport authorities. But Rahaf is not the only case. Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini national, was given refuge by Australia in 2017. In November 2018 he travelled to Thailand on a honeymoon with his wife. He was arrested by Thai authorities. He is still in a Thai prison, and it’s not clear what will happen to him. There’s also Dina Ali Lasloom, a 24-year-old Saudi woman, who was trying to escape from an arranged marriage. She escaped via the Philippines and was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia and has vanished since then.
Rahaf’s case kept me on my toes. I was following it on Twitter and tried to amplify her voice as many did. On the day, her flight was supposed to leave I stared at the flight status on-screen and hoped the plane would never leave. When it did with a delay, I immediately checked Twitter to find out after a short while, that the plane had left without her. Relief flushed through my body! It was easy to empathize with her, but that it actually could make a difference! Who wouldn’t be moved by that? I’m still checking her account regularly. One reason is to make sure she’ll be fine. The other reason is, I’m expecting to hear from her. This woman is special. To have a voice like this with 18 is unusual. To use it and make it in an oppressive environment like she was subjected to, well, that deserves utter respect!
Also, I’d like to quote Mona Eltahawy here, “I believe in freedom of and from religion.” Rahaf deserves to live her life the way she wants to live it. As do Hakeem and as do Dina. The power of social media. It can destroy lives, and it can save them. It certainly made a change within me. A lot of times, we refer to oppressed women in Saudi Arabia. How some of the women’s rights activists got locked up under MBS and get tortured in prison. But here was an opportunity to really connect to one of these women. To listen to her story. Put a face on it. Directly care. Mona Eltahawy said, that Rahaf is going to start a revolution in Saudi Arabia. And under سعوديات_نطلب_اسقاط917# (which translates to Saudi women demand the end of the guardianship system) you’ll find Saudi women tweeting about their experiences with the guardianship system.
Have a look at it and help amplifying their voices! It can make a difference.