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History Of Saudi Arabia Sociology Essay

2558 words (10 pages) Essay in Sociology

5/12/16 Sociology Reference this

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Many, but not all, Islamic societies practice gender segregation in public locations such as, but not limited to, universities, mosques and the marketplace. For example, in some mosques, men are separated by women by a curtain or screen. Unmarried men generally do not mingle with unmarried women unless they are supervised by a chaperone or are at a family party. Seclusion, or the practice of holding women within the home so they have no contact with the public, is practiced as well. Although many Muslim societies practice gender seclusion and segregation, men and women in many other societies study and work together breaking the traditional norms of “gendered space”13 Modern day opinions vary greatly about whether the separation of sexes is necessary. On one hand, many hold that separation is unnecessary while, on the other hand, others hold that modesty can be upheld through dressing appropriately and the limitation of conversations between unrelated men and women to topics of education and work.

“Women have been assigned second-class status in Islam based upon Quran 4:34, which says, ‘Men have responsibility for and priority over women, since God has given some of them advantages over others and because they should spend their wealth [for the support of women].'” There are Muslims who campaign for the literal interpretation of the Qur’an. These advocates believe that the gender inequalities recommended by the Qur’an apply as God’s social order. Biology is often used as a justification for the inequalities between men and women. Biology is so important because only women can produce children, the man must provide for the family and maintain it so that the woman can do what she is supposed to do (raise and bear children).

This chapter will provide the reader with an opportunity to become familiar with the origins of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as insight into how the kingdom governs over social issues such as gender equality and the rights of women.

History of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a very recently created nation. The roots of Saudi Arabia lay within the 18th century Wahhabi movement which rendered the commitment of the very powerful and influential Saud family of the Nejd region, in central Arabia. The Sauds, supported by a strong Bedouin following, brought most of the Saudi Arabian peninsula under the family’s control. However, between the years of 1811-18, the Wahhabi movement was brought to a halt by the sons of Muhammad Ali and the Egyptian expedition that they were leading. Although the Wahhabis once again gained control and influence in the mid-19th century, they were defeated in 1891 by the Rashid dynasty, which ended up gaining the most effective power and control in the central Arabian region.

The foundation of the present nation we know as Saudi Arabia was laid by a descendant of the first Wahhabi rulers, Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud. Starting with Riyadh in 1902, he reconquered the region and was the chief of Nejd by 1906. Right before the First World War, Ibn Saud took over the Al-Hasa expanse from the Hejaz, which had been ruling the area since 1916. The Hejaz were soon crushed by Saud in the years of 1924 and 1925. It was not until 1932 that the Al-Hasa region was combined with the Nejd in order to form the Saudi Arabian kingdom which was ruled under Islamic law.

In the coming years, many changes and developments were in store for Saudi Arabia. In 1936, oil was discovered by the Arabian Standard Oil Company and commercialized production was started in 1938. In 1945, the kingdom joined the Arab League and made an agreement with the United States in 1951 which allowed for an American air base in the city of Dhahran in the Eastern Province. In 1962, Ibn Saud died and was succeeded by his oldest son, Saud.

At first, Saud supported the Nasser regime of Egypt, but in 1956, in an act of opposition to Nasser, he entered into close affairs with the Hashemite rulers of Jordan and Iraq (the enemies of the Saudis up until then). After much turmoil when Saud opposed the Egyptian and Syrian merger to become the United Arab Republic in 1958 and when he dispatched aid to the royalist troops in Yemen, the Saudi family had no choice but to oust Saud and replace him with his brother, Faisal, in November of 1964. Although relations with Egypt were disengaged, however, after Israel defeated Egypt in June of 1967, an agreement was made between King Faisal and Present Nasser. The agreement stated that the Egyptian army was to withdraw from Yemen and in return, Saudi Arabia was to stop helping the royalists in Yemen. By the year 1970, Saudi Arabia had to withdraw all its troops and it had agreed to give $140 million a year to both Egypt and Jordan. With regard to the withdrawal of Britain from the Persian Guld region, King Faisal entered into a friendship with Iran, and encouraged Arab “sheikhdoms” that were under British control to form the United Arab Emirates.

In June of 1974, Saudi Arabia (after having required tighter hold on its oil industry in addition to participation in oil businesses of foreign companies) reached an arrangement with Aramco (combination of several American oil franchises). This arrangement was developed by the Saudi Arabian government as another option to nationalization and stated that the Saudi Arabians would have a 60% majority ownership of Aramco’s enterprises and properties. King Faisal played a prominent role in the Arab oil embargo of 1973 which was focused against the United States and any other country that supported Israel. Fortunately, in 1074, the cease-fire agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria were signed and relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States were amended.

Women in Saudi Arabia

“Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women – both Saudi and foreign – from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.” [1] 

Recently, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who is considered a reformer, pronounced that women would be allowed to vote and run as candidates in municipal council elections starting in 2015 and promised to appoint women to the Shura Council (an all-male counseling body with no legislative power) after two years. Although the king promised all these positive reforms, there is still much discrimination against women as well as much room to improve in regards to social development in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is regarded as one of the most conservative of the Arab states. In Saudi Arabia, differences between the sexes are taught to children at a very early age. [2] According to an al-Saud princess, who secretly and dangerously dictated her story for the book, Princess: A True Story of Life behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia written by Jean Sasson,

“Convinced that women have no control over their own sexual desires, it then becomes essential that the dominant male carefully guard the sexuality of the female. This absolute control over the female has nothing to do with love, only with fear of the male’s tarnished honor. The authority of a Saudi male is unlimited; his wife and children survive only if he desires. In our home, he is the state. This complex situation begins with the rearing of our young boys. From an early age, the male child is taught that women are of little value: they exist only for his comfort and convenience. The child witnesses the disdain shown his mother and sisters by his father; this open contempt leads to his scorn of all females, and makes it impossible for him to enjoy friendship with anyone of the opposite sex. Taught only the role of master to slave, it is little wonder that by the time he is old enough to take a make, he considers her his chattel, not his partner.”

The social limitations on Saudi Arabian women are vast, and the Saudi government defends these limitations by saying that they are a part of Islam’s doctrine; In Saudi Arabia, the Islamic religion acts as a major influence when defining the norms, structures, and patterns of society. [3] “Islam is not only a religious ideology, but a whole comprehensive social system embracing detailed prescriptions for the entire way of life.” [4] The Qur’an instills that women are inferior to men just as the Bible sanctions men to rule over women. The difference between the two, however, is that in Saudi Arabia, Islamic interdictions are followed to their literal interpretations. For example, strict sexual segregation is practiced which deprives women of many educational and professional opportunities. The following is a chart showing just some of the differences between the rights of men and women in Saudi Arabia:







Marriage to a non-Saudi



Marriage to a non-Muslim




Men can simply say, “I divorce you,” three times

Women must assume a long legal process which is hardly ever successful

Child Custody

If he contests the case, the man always gets custody

Women will not receive custody if their ex-husband contests the case

Borrowing of money


Women cannot borrow money under their own names

Opening a business


Women cannot open a business without the approval of their husband or father



Women cannot get home loans or land grants from the government


Men can be employed wherever they please

A woman must obtain her family’ approval for certain jobs

Travel Abroad

Men can travel wherever they please

A woman must depend on her family’s permission in order to travel abroad and must be in the company of a male of her family

In addition to the above discriminations, there is the issue of the dress code. The majority of women in Saudi Arabia are veiled. Although the veil was an invention o the Ottoman Turks and the Prophet Mohammed had said that a women only had to cover her hair, many Saudi Arabian women are either forced, or choose, to wear a full veil which covers their entire face. In addition to the veil, Saudi women wear black outer garments made of either nylon or silk known as abbayat. The failure to dress according to appropriateness in Saudi Arabia can result in a switch from the religious police in Saudi Arabia known as the mutawa. In 1987, an extreme case of punishment overseen by the mutawaeen was documented in which they caused a the wife of the Tunisian ambassador at the time, to have a miscarriage by pushing her because her hair was not covered. [5] 

Although it still deemed as one of the most controversial and conservative of the Arab Countries, Saudi Arabia is working towards fixing issues with gender segregation and inequalities. In modern-day Saudi Arabia, a women cannot be forced into a marriage, she has the right to property ownership and disposal before and after her marriage, she can inherit from the males in her family, she has the right to an education, and right to work in many different professions (as long as it doesn’t affect her responsibilities to her family).

In continuation, women have made very narrow advances towards their equality in the last 40 years, especially in family life and education. In regards to education, the first school for women was created by King Saud in the 1950s. In 1960, a royal directive was introduced to enable the beginning of women’s education in Saudi Arabia. The number of schools for women in Saudi Arabia grew from zero to sixteen in the 1950s, and up to 155 schools ten years later. [6] Saudi women have been able to achieve much educationally-wise despite the social difficulties that have been placed in their path to equality. For many women to have been able to surpass the extreme segregation in Saudi Arabia is certainly a feat that is not to go unnoticed. The following is a list of the differences in the education made available to men and women:

Many facilities that are open to men are not open to women

Women have access to libraries once a week while men have access six days a week

Women’s class sizes are larger than those of men

Teachers for men are better trained and prepared than teachers for women

The budget on women’s education is less than that of men

Curriculum for women centers more on the Qur’an and Islamic studies rather than on academics

Women are forbidden from learning architecture, pharmacy, and engineering

Few women, despite the fact that they tend to score higher than men on

standardized tests, are allowed to work within the private sector because of Islamic rules on segregation. These rules encourage businesses to hire men instead of women. In addition, many Saudi men refuse to marry an educated and employed woman.

Saudi Arabia has always been considered controversial in matters of human rights. In Saudi Arabia, there exists a direct link between Islam and the workings of society. The Saudi social structure is related to an array of types of religious beliefs such as religious philosophy, ethnic rules, and local customs and principles. Islam, in Saudi Arabia, provides detailed conditions regarding the way of life under Islam, in addition to laying out the status, responsibilities, and rights of women.

In my opinion, the proper way to fix the gender inequality issues in Saudi Arabia starts at home. It starts with educating the youth with a positive mindset that rivals the current one that women are inferior to men. The youth should be taught that the sexual segregation and gender inequality causes strictness which leads to intolerance of the female sex and this is detested by the true and pure meaning of Islam. In addition, the existence and creation of women’s groups in Saudi Arabia are important for the social development of gaining rights and equality for women. These groups are important for educating the public, especially men, of the inequalities between genders and how they cause hindrances to the development of women’s position in society.

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