A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, July 30, 2012

First Saudi Women Olympians Facing Challenges at Home, in London

One of the big pre-Olympics stories was the fact that for the first time Saudi women would be competing in London, but the breakthrough is seeming somewhat reduced in importance as they face sharp criticism at home and one of the two is faced with a decision over withdrawal if she insists on competing in a hijab.

Though the Kingdom has sought to benefit from its first dispatch of female athletes to an Olympiad, conservative clerics at home have been sharply critical. A Twitter hashtag translated as "Saudi women in the Olympiad do not represent us" has drawn sharp commentary and another hashtag has characterized them as "whores," despite their insistence on wearing conservative clothing. The Egyptian blogger Zeinobia has had some choice words on that topic. Now, however, the fact that one of the athletes (there are only two), who competes in judo, has been told she may not compete with a head covering, means she may very well be compelled to withdraw.

The Kingdom has taken some pride in its first female Olympians, but agreed to send them reluctantly after the International Olympic Committee threatened to bar the Kingdom altogether if women were banned.

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