Nothing frustrates Arab misogynists more than women fighting for their rights. This could probably be the reason why many constantly try to demonize feminism even though it has long existed in the region.
Arab feminists champion equality and advocate for women's rights within patriarchal societies that are adamant about painting them as "outcasts." The latter narrative circulated in a recent campaign in Saudi Arabia, but it didn't last online for too long.
This week, Saudi Arabia retracted a video in which feminists were labeled "extremists." The footage was posted on the official Twitter page of the kingdom's General Department for Counter Extremism last weekend.
It sparked serious backlash among Saudis and people outside the country, prompting authorities to take it down and issue an apology over the matter.
In their first official response to the controversy, Saudi Arabia's state security agency said the video contained "many mistakes" and hinted at the fact that those behind it could face a formal investigation. The agency also refuted a recent report published by local newspaper Al Watan which claimed feminists would be jailed and subjected to flogging in the kingdom.
The country's Human Rights Committee also weighed in on the matter, saying feminism is not considered a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia.
The footage didn't only label feminism as a form of extremism but also targeted homosexuality and atheism. However, the kingdom didn't retract its labeling of the latter two, possibly because they're both punishable crimes in the kingdom.
Human rights organizations heavily criticized the video and the campaign behind it. In their response to it, Amnesty International said the footage "exposes the Kingdom's dangerous intolerance," adding that feminism, atheism, and homosexuality are not crimes.
Feminism in Saudi society
In the kingdom, feminism and women's rights aren't viewed in the same manner. The former is practically frowned upon just like it is in several Arab countries, while the latter has recently become more celebrated.
Just a scroll through one trending hashtag in the country shows just how many Saudis view feminists in a negative light and think they're out to "violate" social norms and values.
The kingdom has recently been implementing a series of women's rights reforms; as long as the changes are not labeled as "feminism" - though feminism is literally the advocacy of women's rights - people celebrate and welcome the decisions. This is mainly due to people's false perception of feminism.
Many activists believe this is the result of contradictory messages relayed by the state's actions. Last year, the kingdom arrested several women's rights campaigners and feminists just weeks before it officially lifted its ban on women driving. Many of them, including Loujain Al Hathloul, are currently on trial.
This distorted view of feminism is also evident in other Arab countries.
World-renowned Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi is a perfect example of how feminists in the region are often targeted. Throughout her career, she was constantly attacked by misogynists and even tried for apostasy.
Many also accuse regional feminists of trying to "westernize" local societies and claim they're influenced by "outlandish" rhetorics and concepts that don't reflect local beliefs. This just goes to show the extremes to which some will go in order to discredit women's fight for freedom.