Opinion: What calls to boycott ‘The Woman King’ are really saying about women in Saudi Arabia
‘The Woman King,’ which opens on April 4, is a new work by a Saudi-born playwright who has never set foot in the Muslim country. In fact, even her name is foreign: Shukri Abu Hmeith, an Arabic-speaking woman known as “the woman writer.”
The story is set in a fictional kingdom ruled by King Abdullah; as he commands from a throne of thrones and as much of his country is run by his wives, his harem and his harem’s harem, the rest of the kingdom is run by a handful of powerful women, who rule by a code of codes.
Abu Hmeith’s character, a royal woman named Saadat, has been described as the feminist hero of the play, as a “distant” woman with a “secret” that makes her “unique and important.” The women depicted in the play are also characterized as women with secrets: they are the wives of the powerful men who command the kingdom and who do the most to keep it running smoothly.
At the opening of the play’s run in Riyadh on April 4, the National Theater was festooned with a banner reading: “BDS (Boycott The Women) King Abdullah.”
At a time when women in Saudi Arabia still work as the only legal profession that is women-only, when women are not allowed inside the country’s only McDonald’s restaurant and when the nation’s highest-ranking female lawmaker, Salama Al-Mutairi, is a foreign national, we are seeing Saudi women in a rare moment of freedom – and it is a good one.
In response to the play, a number of Saudi activists and celebrities launched a campaign calling for a boycott of the play when it opens.
The boycott campaign was started after the playwright, Shukri Abu Hmeith, spoke at the opening of the play. The playwright said her main goal