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Saudi women still need a man’s permission to vote or stand for office


Summary of story from Haaretz, October 8, 2011

Following the recent announcement by the Saudi king that women will be given the right to vote and stand in municipal elections (see WVoN story) in 2015, he has been widely lauded for his supposed liberalism.

The fact that they will still need the permission of a male relative in order to do so has been virtually unreported by the international media.

Indeed, one could be mistaken for thinking that King Abdullah is a genuine reformer, given all the favorable attention he has received of late.

Last December, Businessweek praised the king as a “vigorous and progressive leader.”

A writer for the Global Post website, prompted by the king’s recent announcement, says that Abdullah is leader of the “progressive faction of the ruling family”. Reuters claimed that the king had “lived up to his reformist reputation” with his “liberal shift.”

To be sure, in the desert despotism of Saudi Arabia, words like “progressive” and “reformer” are relative.

But they lose their meaning when applied to individuals who are religious fundamentalists.

“It is as if the world is congratulating a man for enslaving only 10 women in his basement this week because last week he enslaved 11,” wrote David Keyes of the organization Advancing Human Rights.

While more charitable observers say that the king’s decision to allow women to vote emanates from his innate liberalism, the real motivation is the monarchy’s fears over the regional anti-authoritarian upheaval.

Abdullah and his supporters, meanwhile, accept neither explanation: They claim that granting voting rights to women is predicated upon nothing more complex than a proper – albeit belated – reading of Islamic law.

There is indeed no proscription against female enfranchisement in the Koran.  There is also no prohibition on women driving.

It’s unclear to what extent King Abdullah’s decision is supported by his subjects. It may take some time for Saudi men, inured to treating women like property, to get used to being asked by their wives and daughters if they can vote.

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