“A great victory for Saudi women”

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.

On a lighter note:


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1 Comment

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One response to ““A great victory for Saudi women”

  1. Hi Blackmutt
    I want to thank you for subscribing to my blog. I have read your profile and feels that your approach to being an expat to Saudi Arabia maybe similar to mine.
    First of all, I think it is most important that expats do not go to a foreign country thinking they are doing their hosts a big favour – carrying the proverbial whiteman’s burden so to apeak..
    You are a teacher, I went to Saudi Arabia as a surgeon and I was very conscious that as an expat working in Arabia, I was there to impart knowledge, i.e. to participate in technology transfer.
    I was also very aware that I was a guest of Saudi Arabia. Although I was very forthright when invited to give my views, I did not feel it was my task to to set the national agenda. That was my approach to the issue of women’s emancipation.(Read chapter 9 in my book). However, I am also aware that you may not agree entirely with my views, some of which are very unconventional..
    Unlike other authors who wrote of the politics and the rulers, I wrote only of my own experience. In that sense, we are similar. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach the first batch of women doctors to graduate. I was able to witness both the green shoots and also the problems confronting Saudi Women in their struggle for emancipation. I feel strongly that as outside observers, we can support their struggles, but not set the agenda. I also think that we must view a country’s progress through a historical context. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I was very aware that King’s Abdullah’s wife had published articles in the local press calling for more participation in national affairs by women. I can only watch with hope that King Abdullah’s pronouncement on votes for women will be realised in time. It is important that edicts are not declared that does not have the support of the majority of the population. This latest incident illustrates my case, I tried to make in my book.
    I hope to hear more of your views.and have a fruitful exchange of experiences and opinions.

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