In A Grain of Sand – Case Closed!

Dahlia Rizk

In many ways, what we’ve been reading over the past week regarding the rape case in Saudi Arabia is an anomaly. First of all, it is an anomaly that such a topic would leak out of the Kingdom in the first place. Unfortunately, rape happens on a day-to-day basis in the country, without leading to a trial, much less to a global audience that can condemn it.

Another striking point in the case is that the defense attorney, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, the nation’s top human rights lawyer, is not new to this kind of battle. Just about a year ago, he stood in the defense of two women who were accused of promiscuity by the “moral police”, a shady force that would probably rival the KGB in their, well, “shadiness”. They beat up their driver, and left them stranded in the car in the desert. And Saudi Arabia is miles and miles of desert. Turns out they were just visiting some (female) friends. Among al-Lahem’s clients in the past were a high school chemistry teacher accused of “trying to sow doubt” by speaking positively about Christianity and Judaism, and a journalist accused of “harboring destructive thoughts” by claiming that perhaps homosexuality is a genetic predisposition. Both times, the case against the defendant was dismissed, sometimes with the intervention of King Abdullah himself.

But not this time. His law license is dropped, and the case is considered closed, after his client has been sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes. According the Saudi government, he didn’t show enough respect for the judges in the room. But when you look at how many times he’s been thrown in jail, harassed by officials, or asked to leave the country, you might understand why, if that’s even the case.

But there’s yet another thing I find striking about this case: the perpetrators, the group of seven men who gang-raped her, were also punished for up to nine years in prison. Deservedly so, but it’s not always the case that rapists do get punished in such a country. Another detail that is not mentioned in the press: her male “companion”, with whom she was allegedly having an extra-marital affair, was also raped. And forget getting justice for him — Saudi Arabia doesn’t even acknowledge that homosexuality exists, let alone try to prosecute homosexual rape. You might remember a similar case in Dubai, earlier this year, concerning a young 14-year old French boy, also gang-raped by men. Even for Dubai, “the city on the sand dune”, it was too much to handle. The doctors and lawyers supposedly on his side were asking him after the traumatic event, “Are you sure you were raped?” and “Aren’t you a homosexual?”

But Al-Lahem remains optimistic that Saudi Arabia is on the road to reform, albeit a slow one. The press and the victims themselves have spoken out this time in a somewhat unprecedented way. The King has remained outspoken on this issue, promising more rights for women in the workplace and in the family. But he’s got battles of his own as well, against the more radical, Wahhabi factions of his own ruling family who want power for themselves and an even stricter, more fundamentalist measures.

You heard the judge: the case is closed, and the woman will go to jail. But Saudi Arabia’s case for human rights has just been opened. Keep an eye out for it.