The week started with national day, which appears to be an excuse for people to paint their cars green (pictures below) and drive around in them shouting and waving flags. Oh, and part of the population gets a day off.
But the news that dominated the week was the King’s “historic decision” to give women the vote in municipal elections, and stand for the Shura Council. The Saudi Gazette (one of two extremely mundane English Language newspapers here), presented this as rooted in the rules of Allah’s Shariah and the Prophet’s Sunnah, and part of the way in which Islamic societies such as Saudi Arabia have elevated women’s social status and given them “equal spiritual status”. Of course, this would contradict the western view of the progress of women’s rights under the Saudi interpretation of Sharia law, but who am I to say whether that’s accurate?
For various reactions see here: http://xrdarabia.org/2011/09/28/the-kings-speech-reactions/
The good news for women was seemingly contradicted within a couple of days when it was announced that Shaima Jastaina was to be sentence to 10 lashes for driving without permission (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/29/saudi-women-living-contradiction). This would be a punishment not even doled out for the driving protest last year, and has thus been seen as a reaction by judges to Abdullah’s expansion of the vote. Within two days though (again), Abdullah had overturned the ruling.
Quite where this will lead – and whether it is a preview of the sort of political wrangling, infighting and overruling of decisions which many believe will follow Abdullah’s passing – I certainly have no idea. Nor do I have much access to the sorts of blogs which I would normally steal my ‘opinions’ from. However, if you’re in London and you’re interested in Saudi Arabian politics, I would highly recommend: http://www2.lse.ac.uk/middleEastCentre/events/2011/Madawi%20Al%20Rasheed.aspx
Not that I am advocating any views which may be held in the course of the lecture.
Nor am I arguing for or against the expansion or cut back of women’s rights.
Nor am I saying that Abdullah will pass any time soon.
And I’m certainly not saying I agree with anyone who says the succession of power will be anything other than simple.