Saudi officials have distanced themselves from a promotional video that categorised feminism, homosexuality, and atheism as extremist ideas on November 12. The video was instantly removed by authorities from a verified Twitter account of the State Security Presidency which reports directly to the King of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia's state security agency blamed the video on the individuals who created it. As per the officials, the video contained a number of mistakes in defining extremism, and that the individuals who made the video did not do their job correctly. Later, State-affiliated Saudi Human Rights Commission responded to the controversy saying that feminism was not a crime and that the kingdom accords the utmost importance to women's rights. Yet the explanatory statements omitted reference to homosexuality and atheism, which have long been illegal and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has always promoted a more moderate form of Islam under his ambitious reform strategy that aims to open up society. Salman reportedly strategised the reforms to attract foreign investment to diversify the oil-dependent economy. Amongst the major reforms, Riyadh has loosened social restrictions and launched a tourist visa. The country has also lifted the guardianship system that assigns each woman a male relative to approve important decisions throughout their lives. Women were also granted a driving license for the very first time last year.
In order to bring the reforms, the authorities had to crackdown on dissent, arresting scores of critics including clerics, intellectuals, and activists. Dozens of women's rights advocates were detained some weeks before the driving ban was revoked. The arrests may have been a message that reform would happen only at the government's initiative, activists and diplomats had speculated. The public prosecutor has said that the women were arrested under suspicions of harming Saudi interests and offering support to foreign elements abroad. Some of the charges relate to their work on women's rights and activism. Saudi claims that the supporting groups whom they see as extremist organisations can lead to imprisonment.