This summer, the Arab World is lit up by Rihanna and Saudi billionaire Hussein Jameel’s steamy relationship. Local and international media as well as the paparazzi fed on their romantic photos and extravagant couple lifestyle. If the businessman were an Arab woman, the outcry would have been deafening. But of course, this is a male billionaire who grew up in a male dominated world where ‘A man can do whatever he wants’. The double standards are so gaping that it wouldn’t come as much of shock if an Arab woman in the same position was executed or stoned to death.
Every year hundreds of Saudi women get sentenced to flogging for engaging in pre-marital sex, even in the event of rape. And this is legal oppression isn’t just a story for poor women, Saudi princesses who have remained unnamed for their safety have fled to the UK to seek asylum after having been forced into arranged marriages. It is not just social stigma that forced them to leave, it was genuine fear of the death penalty if they remain or return to Saudi Arabia. Something tells us that Jameel is unlikely to face a similar fate.
Media is a much safer place for Arab men unlike Arab women who would think more than once before posting a photo of their romantic diaries. Even powerful Saudi women such as Princess Deena Abdulaziz have a tendency to dress relatively conservatively, and despite the occasionally visible shoulder or cleavage, she is very unlikely to be caught out in a bikini or a romantic getaway. Jameel on the other hand received a flurry of compliments on his gym-prepped body.
Although there have been some voices calling Jameel out for his alcohol consumption and public display of affection whilst on vacation with Rihanna, they have been relatively quiet. For an Arab woman; death threats and public calls for harsh punishment are common for those who have been seen to cross the invisible moral line that doesn’t just trap them, but strangles them of freedoms.
Despite the fact that pre-marital sex is of course socially and legally prohibited, no one seems to be batting an eyelid at the fact that not only is Jameel dating world’s number one pop star, Rihanna, but he was previously in an intimate relationship with Naomi Campbell. The only discussion of his history with women is focused on Campbell’s apparent jealousy towards his new love. Even in the case of the late British/Egyptian Dodi el Fayed and Princess Diana’s romance, in which actual adultery was involved, the Arab world was still swept up in the short-lived happiness of it all, creating rumors of the princess conversion to Islam.
Even if an Arab woman somehow managed to make it through all this criticism and worries of legal ramifications, looking towards the future things don’t get much better. If Rihanna and Jameel ever choose to take that big step to marriage and children, their path has far fewer legal hurdles than an Arab woman in regards to her family’s religion and citizenship.