By Stefan Matias Kløvning

The nefarious Saudi Arabia, which is known for its carelessness for human rights, is now under scrutiny for giving a female robot “more rights” than most Homo sapiens women in the country. Saudi Arabia is now the first country to have given a robot citizenship, which it was granted at their Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh on Wednesday. The robot, called Sophia Robot, was built by the Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics, which states proudly that “[Sophia] will develop into an emblem for the Hanson Robotics brand, and an embodiment of the company’s vision for Genius Machines.” It being built in Hong Kong explains the lack of coverup as it is based on cultural patterns like Confucianism, which isn’t so strict with women, in contrast to Islam, the state religion of Saudi Arabia, which is very strict with women.

Saudi Arabia is very strict with enforcing its state religious doctrine, whose socioeconomic system is based on the traditional Islamic law الشريعة (ash-sharī’ah), which isn’t a written one, but rather interpretations of the hadith (Muhammad’s words), sunnah (his actions) and Quran. This interpretation is called fiqh. The Sharī’ah itself can thus not be altered, but it’s interpretation can to a certain degree. Some of the strict laws it provides are can be read here: (http://www.billionbibles.org/sharia/sharia-law.html), but related to women there are restrictions such as (1) cannot drive; (2) cannot testify against her rapist; (3) adulterers are punished by death; (4) Muslim men have sexual rights to females not wearing the hijab; (5) encouragement of female mutilation; and (6) a female’s testimony in court is worth ½ of her male counterpart. Saudi Arabia has a religious police force which enforces these laws.

These policies have made them infamous internationally, most for being the only recognized country not allowing females to drive, and has been labeled as the tenth worst country for liberties and political rights by the watchdog group Freedom Foundation. But this may all change, for though many have criticized Saudi Arabia for giving a female robot more rights than their human counterparts, it may be a sign of willingness to change. After all, Saudi women were granted the right to drive a few weeks ago, even though it will not take effect before the summer of 2018. But Saudi Arabia’s prince and next-in-line for the throne, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), announced that he “will return the kingdom to the moderate Islam that is open to the world,” and that he has plans for a new mega-city called NEOM worth $500 billion from scratch. It has been suggested that these two plans are tightly connected. Could Saudi Arabia be on a road to become more like Qatar or Dubai, and further away from its theocratic dictatorship? We can yet only speculate, but for institutional change there must also be social change, which is yet to be, so this plan could get forceful opposition, though also plenty supporters.

Even Saudi-critic going under the alias of ‘MoFreedomFoundation’, who has stated that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is a bigger sponsor of terrorism than Iran, admitted in a recent video:
“The extremism of the past thirty years has definitely been Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia’s extremist past goes back way more than thirty years. But that truth makes these comments [by bin Salman] even braver. MBS has conceded that something is wrong with Saudi Arabia, which is something which leaders there very rarely do. It’s like Kim Jong Un backing off Communism, or Donald Trump backing off tweets.”
However, he also claimed that this doesn’t change KSA’s chances a lot, adding that they “seem to be drifting further and further into dreamland.” He said that the “the moves toward moderation mentioned … are all great, but they seem more like desperation to me than progress. And it’s not even clear what the crown prince’s people think of all this. Chances of a backlash are high, and passed over princes like Muhammad bin Nayef are waiting in the wings for MBS to fail.” He says that he “thinks more highly” of MBS than he did “last week,” but are still dubious about whether these big changes are going to be actualized.

It now stands a significant choice before the people of the KSA. Will they choose to be a liberal or conservative Muslim state? If they choose the former, it will have a remarkable impact on the Middle East, as its “Westernization” would present a more moderate alternative to the Muslim world. If they choose the latter, I suppose nothing much would change: they would keep being known for its radicalism and terrorism-sponsoring. The future of Saudi Arabia is at stake here. Bin Salman has presented an alternative, and it’s up for the KSA people to choose whether to accept it.
Sources:
http://www.hansonrobotics.com/about/company/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Hong_Kong
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Saudi_Arabia
http://www.billionbibles.org/sharia/sharia-law.html
https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/qv3k7m/saudi-arabia-accused-of-giving-a-female-robot-more-rights-than-women
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia#Application_by_country
https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017