…western media such as the BBC reported that a 20-year-old equestrian would compete for Saudia Arabia and light up the London Olympics with her talent, charisma and – most important of all – faith in feminist progress. Not only is Dalma Malhas a fine horsewoman, but she apparently believes in the potential of autocratic Islamic monarchies to adapt and change. Or, as a gushing profile by one journalist put it, Dalma is ‘‘now emerging as a torch for women in Saudi Arabia by showing how freedom to perform can allow women to achieve their goals’’…
Such euphemisms fail, unfortunately, to convey the full horror of the female condition in a country defined by ultra-conservative Wahhabi Islamic orthodoxy and equally patriarchal tribal customs. Saudi women are currently barred from voting or standing for office, are not allowed to expose any part of their body beyond eyes and hands, and have to have a ‘‘male guardian’’ with them at all times. They have separate entrances for public buildings and are not allowed to drive a car. The black humour that underpins state policy was inadvertently summed up in a recent speech by King Abdullah, who said: ‘‘I want women to drive when society is ready for it.’’
Which perhaps makes it less surprising that less than 24 hours after the BBC reported Malhas’s inclusion in the team, the Olympic federation denied that she would compete. In fact her horse has been out of action for weeks.
I had to leave that last sentence in, in case it was a coded message to our oppressed sisters: “Psst, Fatima! The horse is out of action, but the red chicken still flies.”