Loujain al-Hathloul advocated for women's right to drive and called for an end to the Saudi system of male guardianship. Why is someone like her deemed dangerous?
Al-Rasheed: The feminist movement has crossed an important divide in Saudi society. It's not a regional or tribal opposition, nor a sectarian or Islamist one, yet it appeals to a wide section of society. These activists started to engage in national politics, mobilising people from all walks of life to call for civil and political rights, not to mention gender equality.
Many in Saudi Arabia have told me that in order to achieve change small steps are needed, in compliance with Saudi Arabia's conservative Islamic and Arab tribal tradition. What's your take on that?
Al-Rasheed: On 23 September, the regime celebrated ninety years of Saudi state formation. Ninety years is a long time and we still don't have any institution that represents the people. Instead of a national assembly, we have an appointed consultative council. We do not have an elected government. We do not have freedom of expression or assembly. So how long do we have to wait? Another ninety years?
Isn't gradual change still better than no change?
Al-Rasheed: Okay, they allowed women to go see a football match. But you can do that everywhere. Gradual change is a myth, Saudi society is ready! Look at all the prisoners of conscience. Over the last twenty years, so many Saudis have signed petitions and ended up in prison. Saudis are able to imagine a better political future. But there is no discussion of any kind of political reform. MbS managed to get journalists, especially in the West, and PR companies to promote his reforms as if they were the end. His reforms, the narrative goes, are what Saudis asked for. But what about those who are in prison simply for speaking out against torture, for example?