Vogue Arabia draws flak for featuring Princess Hayfa while women activists are jailed

Last issue of Vogue Arabia.

Vogue Arabia landed for a bit of harsh criticism following its June 2018 cover which features a Saudi princess. While Vogue Arabia’s intentions may have been noble: to feature the “trailblazing women of Saudi Arabia”, its timing was far from perfect – it was published just after the arrest of a dozen women rights activist.

Vogue Arabia’s June 2018 cover, features Princess Hayfa Bint Abdullah Al Saud, daughter of the late King Abdullah, sitting in a Mercedes convertible with the caption “Driving Force”.

When it was released on social platforms last Wednesday, it met, almost immediately, an onslaught of condemnation with people pointing out that although Saudi Arabia is set to lift the ban on women for driving, it had arrested a dozen women’s rights activists on charges of “encroaching on religious and national constants”.

“These Saudi princesses have never done anything for women’s rights in their country. Now they are cover girls portraying strong women and talking about the right to drive! And real activists are being questioned and jailed,” wrote a Twitter user wrote. “What a f*cked up world.”

“These Saudi women aren’t your ‘liberated desert princesses’”, tweeted another.

“They’ve clearly only been permitted to be on the cover of Vogue to make Saudi more palatable to the West to encourage foreign [money].”

Representatives for publisher Conde and Vogue Arabia did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

The arrest has led to fears that the reform measures that the new crown prince Mohammad bin Salam aims to make is not as sweeping and wide-ranging as was hoped.

“Rather than celebrating Saudi Arabian women by championing brave women’s rights activists like the detained Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan, and Aziza Yousef, who played a crucial role in campaigning for women’s basic right to drive, the [Vogue Arabia] issue instead contributes to the whitewashing of the ongoing human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the isolation of their brave human rights activists,” said Kareem Chehayeb of Amnesty International.

Chehayeb went on to add, “It’s extremely unfortunate given the worsening human rights situation and the current wave of arrests and the smear campaign of those activists that followed.“

On Thursday, photoshopped images of the Vogue cover were seen on social media sites with the faces of the detained women replacing that of princess Hayfa.

Princess Hayfa has been quoted as saying she welcomes the ruling family’s Vision 2030 reforms, that are designed to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy from its oil dependent income.

“In our country, there are some conservatives who fear change. For many, it’s all they have known. Personally, I support these changes with great enthusiasm,” said Princess Hayfa. “It is easy to comment on other people’s societies and think that your own society is superior, but the Western world must remember that each country is specific and unique. We have strengths and weaknesses but, invariably, it’s our culture, and it’s better to try to understand it than to judge it.”