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BGSU graduate arrested by Saudi Arabian government, loved ones show support

Ayman al-Drees, a BGSU alumnus, was arrested by the Saudi Arabian government in early April. The charges against him are still undisclosed to the public.

He returned to Saudi Arabia following his father’s death, after spending multiple years in the U.S. receiving his bachelor’s degree in business management, to care for his mother and the rest of his family.

Al-Drees was described as a “kind,” “intelligent” and “respectful” individual by his wife and several friends. His wife, Malak “Angel” al-Shehri, is a feminist and activist against Saudi Arabia’s restrictions on women’s rights.

The two met after al-Shehri was arrested in 2016 for posting a photo on Twitter of her in public without her abaya or hijab.

She said Al-Drees was always supportive of her and never brought the concept of male guardianship into their relationship, viewing her as an equal. Male guardianship, under Saudi law, requires all women to have a legal guardian, or wali, who controls their civic life in what is often seen as a dominant, sexist manner. Despite this, al-Drees respected al-Shehri’s personal autonomy and feminist ideals.

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“He always tried to understand feminism, from my position as a woman,” al-Shehri said.

Al-Drees tried to understand other people through their perspectives by asking questions and learning. This passion for knowledge is what made al-Drees a successful student.

Many of his professors enjoyed having him in class as he studiously worked on each  assignment and project, as well as participated in class even when it had no relation to his major. Even though his major was business, he was interested enough to study another language, his German professor Kristie Foell said.

His professors appreciated his work ethic and dedication to his classeswhile studying his second language, and always seeking help when he needed it. He even got to know some of his professors more personally, bonding with them through his varied interests.

One of these interests was language, Foell said. As his German professor, she had in-depth discussions with him about the nuances between his native language, Arabic, and his secondary languages, English and German.

His affection for language allowed him to pursue a side hobby of his: translating various English texts into Arabic. These translations were videos that captured an aspect of feminism, human rights and philosophy he believed people who could not read English should have access to.

His love for and knowledge of language is one of many things that helped him endear himself to other students, refuting the common stereotypes Americans might have against Middle-Easterners. Al-Drees was able to show other students, who were at first somewhat dismissive of his culture, a peaceful side of Islam and views on Americans, Foell said.

Al-Drees gave more to his teachers than a friendly face and respectful attitude. He gave a general studies writing professor of his, Cynthia Mahaffey, a souvenir from New York City after a visit. Since she had never been to New York City, al-Drees brought her the gift, displaying his thoughtfulness and penchant for giving back, she said.

Out of all the people in Bowling Green he formed bonds with, al-Drees’ bond with the Hubbell-Staeble family was one of the strongest.

He met Dawn Hubbell-Staeble and her son, Nathan, during his classes. Dawn was another one of his general studies writing professors, and Nathan introduced himself after class one day. Nathan was initially drawn to al-Drees after his mother spoke highly of him in her class. These two relationships were the starting point for al-Drees’ development of his American family, Nathan said.

Through Dawn and Nathan, al-Drees was introduced to Aidan Hubbell-Staeble, who he formed a similar bond with. Both brothers attested to al-Drees’ “easygoing” personality, as well as the ease with which he adapted to the Hubbell-Staeble’s eccentric and open family dynamic.

“He was always there for Thanksgiving, birthday parties, family dinners,” Nathan said. “He got along with everyone.”

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Taking in al-Drees as one of their own made the impact of his arrest hit even harder for the family. Because of this, Dawn organized a phone banking event in the ECCO lounge of McDonald Hall April 12 to call the office of President Rodney Rogers to get a public statement from him on the arrest. Rogers has yet to make a statement.

Al-Drees’ friends and family await updates on why he was arrested and if he’ll be released while worrying for his safety and wishing for acknowledgment of the injustice of his arrest.

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