Rahaf Mohammed, Saudi activist, lesbian, feminist and ‘influencer’: “Twitter literally saved my life” | International

Rahaf Mohammed was 18 years old when, in December 2018, he fled his family and his country. He lived in the Ha’il region, where the most extreme interpretation of Islam prevails, Wahhabism, and it took almost three years to plan his escape thanks to secret Internet forums where other Saudi women told how they had done it. He took advantage of a family vacation in Kuwait to get his passport and fly to Bangkok. His father’s powerful bonds nearly thwarted the plan. Held in a hotel room, she launched an appeal for help to the world through Twitter, journalists from different countries spread her story and, finally, she was granted asylum in Canada. She there she now learns to live in freedom. When she, already in Toronto, called her older brother and told him that a driver had raped her a few months before fleeing, he replied: “If you had been home, it would not have happened to you.” She tells it in Rebel (Peninsula), a heartbreaking book about prisons without bars. Respond to the interview by email.

Ask. She was born into a wealthy family, in a large house with nine bedrooms and 10 bathrooms; her father worked for the Saudi royal family. Do you remember when was the first time that she realized that something was missing? Until when was her childhood similar to that of any other child?

Response. I was seven years old when everything changed. It was as if a curtain was closed on my life. I went from being a happy girl to not understanding my place in the family. I wondered why I was treated so differently, what was wrong with being a girl. At that age, my mother told me that it was absolutely forbidden for her to make noise or raise her voice above others. In a way, I was lucky to have questioned these opinions and continued to think for myself. Many do not and live what for me is a half life.

P. What things do you do in your new life in Canada that would lead to beatings, arrests or even death in Saudi Arabia?

R. Most. Now I live my best life: I go out with friends, I go where I want, I wear what I like. I never cover my face. I am proud of my body and I take responsibility for myself.

It came to me that they forced my little sister to get married. My escape complicated his life

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P. His mother used to tell him that women who wear swimsuits on the beach are prostitutes, as are women who want to drive or laugh in public. She also told him that riding a bike would cause her to lose her virginity and make her a lesbian. But she had had access to an education, she was a teacher. Didn’t she see her hesitate, consider conflicts?

R. That is the duplicity with which women live. She had access to the Internet, like me. But women who are controlled by men somehow make deals with themselves thinking that their life is better if they submit. Although it is not so.

P. Do you still have nightmares about that horrible video of people burning for being gay that they showed you at school after seeing you kiss another girl?

R. Not often. I have tried very hard to put that part of my life behind me. I know the video is not true, like many of the things I was told. So I can rule out that nonsense. Besides, now I’m happy. Being at peace with yourself is a good way to get rid of things like those scary videos made to make me feel bad.

P. How old was he then?

R. The first time I was shown it I was not yet a teenager.

P. In his book he describes Saudi Arabia as a “hypocritical regime”. She used to wonder why, if it was the men who couldn’t control themselves, it was the women who had to cover themselves with dark clothing or how it was possible that men considered women a threat and, at the same time, people who needed constant tutelage. . Was his life full of contradictions?

R. Yes, my life was totally full of those kinds of contradictions. And from the age of seven I questioned the logic of all those suffocating rules.

P. And the rest of the world, the world of human rights and feminism, is it also a hypocrite when dealing with Saudi Arabia? How do you feel when you see a western leader shake hands or make deals with the royal family or when big sporting events are organized in her country?

R. I don’t pay much attention to those events, but I learned very early on the relationship between money and power. Those who have it will do whatever it takes to get more and perhaps there are people who prefer profits to clear consciences.

P. Do you believe in the recent measures announced by the royal family to modernize the way of life a little and allow women to do more things? Is change possible in a short time considering that almost half of the population is under 25?

R. Everything is possible. Hope so. Even the few changes that are happening now make me glad for the success of its creators. But I know that the change is easily reversible. I find it hard to trust people who claim they will not repress, abuse, or control women, but I will celebrate every step that advances rights and equality.

P. Is that app you talk about in the book that allows men to control every move of women in their lives still working? Do the authorities favor him?

R. It is said that it is not used, but I do not believe it. As crazy as it sounds, there are many men in Saudi Arabia who truly believe that women should be controlled because the kingdom would collapse if they were free to do what they think is best for themselves.

P. The windows of her old room were always closed to prevent men from seeing her from outside. The Internet was her window to the rest of the world. Do you think she would still be alive if her phone had been seized at the airport instead of her passport? How important were Twitter and the Internet in her flight?

R. The internet allowed me to figure out how to escape, and Twitter and the people posting my case online literally saved my life.

P. Do you still receive death threats? Whose?

R. Yes, but it is best not to talk about them.

P. Do you miss your family? In the book he explains that despite the beatings and the humiliations… he loves them.

R. Of course. I still love them. I hope to see you again one day, especially my little sister. But I decided to go ahead. My life is full: of friends, plans and happiness.

P. What do you know about your little sister? Was she forced to marry?

R. It came to me that they were forcing her to marry, but I have no updated news. She poor thing, she will have to do what she is told. She will feel watched and threatened. I realize that my escape complicates her life. When I left, at night, on tiptoe, I looked at her sweet little face and wished that she didn’t hate me for what she was doing. I sincerely hope that she is well.

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