King Abdullah's recent announcement that women will be able to vote in 2015 is too little, too late
Saudi King Abdullah at a Shura assembly in Riyadh, where he announced greater political rights for women / Reuters
It tells us much about the modern media and blogosphere when we get excited about news from Saudi Arabia that essentially means very little. Can women in Saudi Arabia run for office in this Thursday's municipal elections? No. Can they vote? No. But a post-dated political check by an ailing monarch has made global headlines. And yet, a woman sentenced to ten lashes today in Jeddah for violating a driving ban has received no media attention (thus far).
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King Abdullah, by all accounts a relative reformer, promised over a decade ago that he would "open all doors for Saudi women to enable them to make their full contributions to the nation...which is in great need of them," yet to this day in Saudi Arabia women cannot work in most sectors. In 1961, the first elementary schools for girls were opened in Saudi Arabia by King Saud, ushering in an age of hope that women would be educated, work, and enjoy equal status. Fifty years later, that promise is yet to be realized.
I lived in Saudi Arabia in 2005, when King Abdullah had recently taken the throne. He regularly spoke about the need to bring about full human rights in a country that treats six million foreigners as modern-day slaves, refuses Christians and Jews places of worship, and subjects its own women to second-class status. The king's speeches gained coverage in the western media. But where it mattered, in Friday prayer gatherings inside the country, conservative clerics would undermine the king's commitment among the population.