In his editor’s letter, Mr. Arnaut applauded “exciting and progressive changes transforming the kingdom and, by ripple effect, our region,” but made no mention of the driving activists.
In an emailed statement, he said, “Informing and initiating healthy debates around meaningful topics are a priority for us, and we therefore decided to emphasize this with an iconic and powerful image that is completely fulfilling its purpose: bring focus to the region and to the role of women in Saudi society.”
Mr. Arnaut said the publication had seen an “outpouring of positive sentiment” from the region.
“Overall, I firmly believe we fulfilled our mission: Saudi Arabia, its women, and its issues are being widely debated by the world,” he said. “It is an incredible moment for the region — of drastic changes and adjustments — and I’m proud that Vogue Arabia is an active voice in this debate.”
International human rights groups have criticized Saudi Arabia’s decision to detain the activists and are demanding their release. Human Rights Watch criticized Crown Prince Mohammed’s conflicting messaging on female drivers.
“Saudi authorities appear to be punishing these women’s rights champions for promoting a goal bin Salman alleges to support — ending discrimination against women,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The United Nations has called the decision to imprison the activists “perplexing.”
“Given the significant loosening of certain restrictions on women’s activities in Saudi Arabia in recent months, including the forthcoming ending of the ban on women driving, it’s perplexing why both women and men engaged in campaigning for such positive developments are now being targeted by the authorities,” Elizabeth Throssell, spokeswoman for the United Nations human rights office, said at a news conference in Geneva earlier this week.