The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Beyond the Shakespearean love

Caroline Dillard

Contributing Writer

[email protected]

 In the past couple weeks, the story of a young Saudi woman and Yemeni man who tried to escape the confines of traditional culture and parental authority for love captured the world. Al-Niran al-Niran, a 22-year-old Saudi woman, met Tahar Mohammed Tahar, a Yemeni citizen, when she brought in her phone to be fixed at the shop where he worked in Saudi Arabia. The pair quickly fell in love but ran into difficulty when al-Niran’s parents refused Tahar’s marriage proposal. When al-Niran’ father set up an arranged marriage to ensure his daughter would not marry the Yemeni, she illegally fled across the Saudi border to elope with Tahar.

Yemeni forces, however, arrested al-Niran for illegal entry, jailed her and threatened deportation, catapulting the young lovers’ story into public awareness. The media branded their story a modern Arab Romeo and Juliet. Protestors gathered in Sanaa shouting “We are all Al-Niran” and “Love before borders and citizenship.” A Facebook group supporting Al-Niran and Tahar’s plight garnered around 11,000 “likes.” Finally last Tuesday, Yemeni authorities released Al-Niran and gave her three months to seek help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many reports of al-Niran and Tahar’s Shakespearean love story focused on the threat Al-Niran faced in the event of her deportation from Yemen. Al-Niran cited potential violence from her family in Saudi Arabia in her plea for asylum. The traditional — even oppressive —role of women in Saudi Arabia is no secret, especially after the tensions created by a campaign to end the driving ban on women over the past month. Under such conditions it is understandable why Al-Niran believes she cannot return to her home country after her defiant flight. What is not clear, however, is if al-Niran will be any better off in Yemen.

The youth who took to the street in the Arab Spring seem to suggest that significant social and attitude shifts have occurred in the Gulf nation. The reality for women, however, is still bleak. Yemen is hardly the safe haven for brave, young women like al-Niran that many accounts of her story seem to depict. Much like their Saudi counterparts, Yemeni women face legal barriers to the full recognition of their human rights. Women have lesser status in Yemeni family, property, and inheritance law. There is no legal recognition of spousal rape. Men convicted of honor killings are often given lenient sentences. No minimum legal age for marriage exists, and a 2009 study found that a quarter of all girls were married before age 15. Al-Niran may have escaped oppressive Saudi customs and laws, but she did not escape the underlying norms that define women as lesser people in many Middle Eastern countries.

Maybe al-Niran’s story gained such attention because an evolving Arab world wants to fight for the rights of young men and a young women to marry without the constraints of traditional norms or patriarchy. Maybe al-Niran and Tahar are just pawns in a struggle between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Or maybe they received attention because the story of a young woman who is courageous enough to assert her rights despite the legal implications or potential familial violence is still the exception, not an evolving norm, in these Arab countries. As the story of al-Niran and Tahar spreads and becomes romanticized, do not forget that al-Niran’s freedom from her father’s stern control does not necessarily mean she is free.

Dillard is a senior majoring in economics.

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