Saudi Arabia plays a major religious and economic role in the lives of Muslims and non-Muslim because of its oil reserves and historical importance to Islam. As a result, the actions of the Saudi government resonate significantly in Arab and Muslim societies. Barring Saudi women from participating in the Olympic Games is contrary to the I.O.C. rules, which state that "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympics Movement." Furthermore, this decision re-enforces and perpetuates the already offensive Muslim systems of segregation and discrimination against Saudi women specifically, and women throughout Muslim and Arab societies.
The Saudi government's manipulations of universal treaties and declarations of human rights, as well as its continued violations of human rights at home, is not only unacceptable behavior in the 21st century, but ample grounds to declare Saudi Arabia a pariah state and to have its membership in the Olympics suspended until it abides by the rules of the International Olympic Committee. The King of Saudi Arabia initiated and presided over an interfaith dialogue in Spain (June 16th through the 18th, 2008) where he emphasized tolerance of differences and respect for all peoples. The king and his family should start to reconcile differences and respect their own citizens, men and women. There is no better chance for the Saudis to change their disdainful and unjust policies toward women than to abide by international norms and let them participate in the Olympics in Beijing, in August 2008. As the birthplace of Islam and host to its holy shrines, Saudi Arabia has an enormous obligation to show that Islam is not a religion of intolerance, extremism, oppression, segregation, and exploitation.
The Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia condemns the Saudi government's decision to deny Saudi women the right to be full citizens at home and full members of the international community. The Saudi government is practicing an Apartheid-like system that is similar to that of South Africa a few decades ago, for which it was barred from global events, boycotted, and declared a pariah government. The international community, especially Western democracies, should treat the Saudi government as they treated the segregationist Apartheid government in South Africa.