A hot new topic has taken over the Saudi social media scene. It is not the coordinated Saudi-led military assault dubbed ‘Storm of Resolve’ on the strongholds of Al Houthi rebels in Yemen. It pertains to an attack much closer to home, a heinous act perpetrated by a perverted individual in broad daylight.

The assault took place a little before midday last week during the week-long spring break in the coastal city of Jeddah. Dareen, a 23-year-old, was repeatedly stabbed by a young man who made unwanted advances on her. According to eyewitnesses, Dareen was on an outing with her aunt and cousin when they decided to stop at a popular cafe in front of Jeddah’s scenic corniche.

As Dareen waited outside the coffee shop taking in the beauty of the Red Sea, a young man approached her and started harassing her. Trying to avoid him, she turned and started walking towards the cafe. Incensed at her snub, he grabbed her from behind and pushed her to the ground. He then drew out a paper cutter from his pocket and began stabbing her in the back, neck, face and shoulder.

The incident on the sidewalk quickly drew attention but unfortunately it was of the wrong kind. Several spectators began taking out their mobile phones to document the vicious attack without bothering to intervene. It was only when a young Saudi roller-skater who happened to pass by came to her rescue that Dareen’s ordeal ended and the attacker took off.

Dareen was bleeding profusely from the neck when her rescuer Abdullah Al Sharbini got to her and chased the assailant away. Quickly applying some pressure to stop the bleeding, Abdullah waited a few moments before others joined in the rescue and then he took off after the assailant. He was fortunate to catch up with the assailant and take some pictures of him and the vehicle licence plate before latter sped away. The police arrived at the scene five minutes later.

Dareen was rushed to the nearest government hospital where she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit in critical condition with a vein in her neck severed and a nerve controlling her speech functions damaged. Dareen’s ordeal didn’t end there. One of her relatives who accompanied her to hospital charged that Dareen was left unattended for nine hours, except when bandages were applied to stop the bleeding.

The relative charged that there was very little urgency shown by the hospital staff to provide emergency medical attention to Dareen given her life-threatening condition, and that it was only after much pleading and threatening that she was taken, unconscious, for X-rays and then to the operating room. “This neglect of emergency 
[attention] by the hospital staff has led to the added torment of her family,” the relative said.

The incident, which happened in broad daylight in the country’s most cosmopolitan city, swept through social media like wildfire. One woman, a relative of the victim, said she intends to educate the community on how to respond to such crimes and has launched a campaign dubbed ‘We are all Dareen’ to highlight the dangers that women face and to spread awareness among members of the community on how to respond to such incidents.

The activist called upon society to “come together in solidarity against such acts. Every person must have the courage to defend himself and others when confronted with such a situation. Just by being an idle bystander and not coming to the rescue is intolerable”.

She added that one of the missions of the campaign would be to take “a group of women who would go to the crime scene and discuss with other women about the incident, and to provide them with positive thoughts and encouraging them to learn self-defence”.

The campaigners also intend to ensure a presence in areas visited by a large number of women, such as the city’s popular walking trails.

Wave of indignation

Although the culprit behind the attack on Dareen was soon arrested with the blood of his victim still staining his clothes, that did not halt a wave of indignation from Saudis shocked at the way the sordid incident had panned out.

Mona, a young mother of three, said: “I shudder to think what would happen to me in such a situation. Perhaps more deadly than the wounds would be to witness the callousness of bystanders busily clicking away with their camera phones while I am under attack.”

Another said: “There should be visible security in such places and tough anti-harassment laws like in other countries in the Gulf. This act is neither civilised nor Islamic and it is a shame upon all of us.”

It should not be forgotten that were it not for the timely arrival of a brave young man — who put his life in danger when he confronted the attacker and prevented further damage — the girl could have been dead today. How many of us would act in such situations and how many others would continue to stand by and click away?

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.