Some Progress to Report for Saudi Women


Arab News, a Saudi government media outlet published in English, has an article describing a couple religious scholars supporting the proposition that Islamic law does not in fact prohibit women from driving. The story is buoyed by a rough survey of respondents that show the majority of Saudi men and women support this to various degrees.
Arab News would not print this unless there was a conscious decision at the top to initiate and open up this debate — as I’ve noted in the past, the Saudi King has to sign off on the editors of the major papers, which means that if this was printed, it was effectively sanctioned by the Saudi government. It might be testing the waters but it is nonetheless significant.
While a general consensus continues to lament the lack of political reform in the Middle East and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular, I get the impression most aren’t paying close enough attention to the micro-trends in Saudi Arabia that are so celebrated in American society.
In January, Saudi authorities confronted religious codes and removed the ban that prohibited women from staying in hotels unaccompanied. Stephen McInerney of the Project on Middle East Democracy reviewed these trends in a well-balanced piece exploring the latest reform efforts in the end of January:

The past two weeks has quietly seen a flurry of small steps toward greater rights for women in the kingdom. Last Monday, January 21, it was reported that the Saudi government had ruled to permit women to stay in hotels without the presence of a male guardian, effective immediately. On the same day, government officials also confirmed that a decision had been reached to remove the ban on women drivers, with a decree to that effect to be issued before the end of 2008. Lifting the ban on driving would be a move of great symbolic value, as Saudi Arabia is the only country to prohibit women behind the steering wheel, and this fact is the most often cited example to demonstrate the oppression of Saudi women. Also, on Tuesday, January 29, it was revealed that the Saudi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has approved the establishment of the first women’s rights organization in the kingdom, to be known as Ansar al-Mar’ah (patrons/supporters of women).
In short, the Saudi regime deserves credit for these apparent openings in terms of women’s rights. Given the timing, the moves appear to be at least partly the result of constructive pressure from the international community including the United States. Needless to say, the Saudi regime still has a very long path to tread in terms of women’s rights and equality, but hopefully these measures signal the beginning of a long period of steady progress, rather than merely an isolated burst of activity. The recent moves can also be taken as encouraging evidence that international diplomatic pressure can yield results. But it is critical that such pressure on the Saudi regime not abate once the long-awaited arms deal is finalized in February and a few positive steps have been taken. It is also essential that recently announced measures such as the lifting of the driving ban be carried out as planned — authoritarian Arab regimes have become increasingly adept at timing announcements of reform to relieve international pressure, then failing to carry out the steps as promised once the outside attention has diminished. If those conditions are met, and the recent moves turn out to be merely the beginning of women’s rights reform in Saudi Arabia, then the steps taken in January 2008 will have been very important indeed.

This should no be confused with a sweeping revolutionary reform that we witnessed in the 1980s. Eastern Europe was altogether different with significantly different historical trajectories. But while looking for the revolution, we might come to realize we’ve missed the incremental micro-changes which historians look back on and acknowledge to have gradually reordered a society.
–Sameer Lalwani


9 comments on “Some Progress to Report for Saudi Women

  1. Homer says:

    Lurker: *Fighting* Keyboard Bombadiers, …. Interventionist *liberals*
    Liberals are advocating a violent regime change in Saudi Arabia?
    You are so freaking confused!!!
    Mark Steyn is a liberal?
    Andy McCarthy is a liberal?
    Read: The fun and excitement of civilization wars (fought from afar). By Glenn Greenwald.
    In response to my post on Friday pointing out that nobody outside of the handful of Muslim-obsessed faux-warriors is moved any longer by the Government’s endless exploitation of Terrorism to secure more and more unchecked power, National Review’s Mark Steyn said:
    He may have a point: It’s psychologically exhausting being on permanent Orange Alert, especially as the reason for it recedes further and further in the rear-view mirror. A lot of Americans are “over” 9/11, and, while the event had a lingering emotional power, the strategic challenge it exposed has not been accepted by much of the electorate.
    The truth is exactly the opposite. There is nothing more psychologically invigorating than the belief that you are staring down the Greatest and Most Evil Enemy Ever in History, courageously waging glorious war for all that is Good and Just in the world. Nothing produces more pulsating feelings of excitement and nobility like convincing yourself that you are a Warrior defending Western Civilization from the greatest threat it has ever faced, following in — even surpassing — the mighty footsteps of the Greatest Generation and the Warrior-Crusaders who came before them.
    For those who crave and glorify (though in their lives completely lack) acts of warrior courage, play-acting the role of the intrepid Warrior is uniquely satisfying. That’s why nothing can fill the bottomless spare time of bored, aimless adolescents like sitting in front of a computer commanding vast armies and destructive military weapons, deployed against cunning, scary and evil enemies. That’s why the Mark Steyns of every generation create such Enemies, because they are purposeless and aimless without them.
    Steyn deeply flatters himself into believing that only he and his tragically small (and shrinking) band of warrior-comrades can bear the “psychologically exhausting” burden of defending The West and its freedoms. Sadly, most Americans — he says — are too weak, too brittle, just not up to the task of bearing the heavy burden of prosecuting the war against the omnipotent jihadi super-villains.
    But not Steyn and friends. They are society’s freedom fighters, the Progeny of Churchill, Patton and Napoleon, bravely and tenaciously manning the barricades of Civilization itself. They’ll find a powerful and protective Warrior who leads them; advocate all sorts of fascinating technologies and complex spying schemes to wage the War; spend hour upon hour chatting about battles and tactics and strategies; and endlessly depict themselves as besieged though tenacious. Far from being “psychologically exhausting,” convincing yourself that you are all that — as Steyn and comrades explicitly do — is to bathe oneself in self-affirming and self-glorifying virtue. Nothing could ever compete with such glory when it comes to psychological fulfillment.
    Adam Smith, all the way back in 1776, in An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations, described the fun, entertainment and deep psychological fulfillment which Wars against Supremely Evil Enemies provide to many who don’t have to fight them:
    In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies . . . .
    They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.
    One finds vivid illustrations of the twisted syndrome Smith identified in most of Steyn’s war cheerleading comrades, especially its leaders. From Jeffrey Goldberg’s New Yorker profile of Joe Lieberman:
    Lieberman likes expressions of American power. A few years ago, I was in a movie theatre in Washington when I noticed Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, a few seats down. The film was “Behind Enemy Lines,” in which Owen Wilson plays a U.S. pilot shot down in Bosnia. Whenever the American military scored an onscreen hit, Lieberman pumped his fist and said, “Yeah!” and “All right!”
    Far from being “psychologically exhausting,” the Wars against the Most-Evil-Enemies-Ever that take place inside the head of the Mark Steyns and Joe Liebermans are exhilarating and fun, and they provide the weak, purposeless and powerless with their only opportunity to feel strong, purposeful and powerful. Here, for instance, was the response from Steyn’s warrior-comrade, Andy McCarthy, to my post on Friday and to what Steyn wrote:
    Glenn Greenwald? Yawn.
    Wake me up when he’s interviewed some of the people trying to kill us and spent a few weeks with people maimed in terrorist attacks (I’d have spoken with the dead, but they were unavailable).
    Look at how personally vital — how indispensable — the War of Civilizations is to McCarthy, to his identity and sense of purpose. He doesn’t even need to go anywhere near combat, or fight in the Wars he cheers on. He still gets to be on the front line — a gruff, hard-nosed, no-nonsense veteran-warrior who has been in the trenches, who has stared down the ugly realities of the Civilization Wars and — despite it all — still soldiers on. Think of the emptiness and loss of purpose if the Threat from the Enemy were exaggerated and all of that faded away.
    This is why our nation’s faux-warriors can never be reasoned with. It’s why their greatest fear is having the Threats from Our Enemies be put into rational perspective, alongside all the other garden-variety manageable threats we face. To argue that they are exaggerating and melodramatizing the Enemy and the threat is to take away from them that which is most personally important to them.
    Just consider the grandiose, baroque rhetoric they employ. What they are defending — today’s U.S. — is not merely good. It’s not even great. It’s not even the greatest thing there is on the Earth right now. No — it’s much more grand than that: it’s the Greatest Country ever to exist on the Earth in all of human history. That’s what they’re defending; that’s the magnitude of the burden they bear, the incomparable importance of the crusade they lead.
    Conversely, the Enemy they are facing down (from a safe distance) is not merely threatening or evil or scary or formidable. No, it’s much, much more than that. This is the greatest Enemy that exists on the planet, the most cunning and nefarious and evil force the world has ever seen — not just now, but for all of human history. There is nothing remotely like the depravity and power of this particular Enemy — and there never has been. Ever. Everything these faux-warriors face and defend is superlative; there has never, ever been a war like the one they are waging. None of the old rules apply. This is all unique, unknown, the first and most important of its kind.
    What’s most confounding about all of this is that they completely evade the most basic instruments of self-evaluation. All they have to do is look back and realize that every generation, in every country, has been plagued by factions suffering from the same self-glorifying delusions — that they alone are the Brave Warriors willing to engage in the Most Important Battle for Civilization Ever. None of it’s new. Back in 1964, Richard Hofstadter described exactly this psychological affliction in his famous Harper’s essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics:
    The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point.
    Shouldn’t basic self-awareness compel the faux-warriors who read that to at least entertain the thought: “Maybe my belief that I’m waging an apocalyptic War of Civilization against The Uniquely Evil Enemy is grounded in a psychological need, one that is extremely common if I look to the past, rather than an objective assessment or any sort of political belief or ideological conviction. Maybe I’m exaggerating the threat posed in order to inflate my own importance and give myself a sense of purpose and power as I convince myself that I’m waging all-important (though risk-free) war.”
    Over the past couple decades, prior to the Bush Era, the people who needed the sort of psychological fulfillment that comes from prancing around as Hofstadterian faux-warriors waging Civilization Wars obtained their fulfillment from playing board and video games or, at worst, dressing up on the weekend in camouflage costumes and — rather than playing golf or going fishing — marched around in militia formations, primed to defend the nation from Janet Reno and her squadrons of hovering U.N. black helicopters. It was equally pathetic, but at least the damage was minimal.
    But the 9/11 attacks and ensuing events catapulted their paranoia and powerlessness syndromes from clownish sideshow to dominant political faction. And their fevered, self-serving fantasies have empowered the Federal Government beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, created a completely out-of-control domestic surveillance state, subordinated even the rule of law to the lawless dictates of Security State officials, and dismantled long-standing constitutional protections and political values so basic that they were previously beyond debate. In Civilization Wars, all is fair and justified — torture, lawbreaking, domestic spying, limitless government power, because the imperative of their crusade outweighs all.
    All of that is bad enough. But listening to the authors of these events martyr themselves by claiming that their crusades are “psychologically exhausting” is really too much to bear. The reason they pursue those crusades endlessly, and will continue to pursue them until stopped, is precisely because the only thing they find “psychologically exhausting” is the prospect of having to live without their Supreme War of Civilization, whereby they defend the greatest things ever, under siege from the most Evil villains ever, with them — and only them — courageous and tough enough to “do what needs to be done” to triumph.
    The fun and excitement of civilization wars (fought from afar)


  2. karenk says:

    You go Robert M! Wow, Saudi women might be allowed to drive-gee willikers, next they’ll be burnin their bras. To say that Saudi women still have a long way to go regarding their equal rights is the understatement of the year. Makes me wanna get an ice cream truck with huge speakers and drive it thru the kingdom blastin out Hellen Ready’s “I am Woman”!! In fact the biggest problem with these Muslim countries is the fact that they discount half the population-it has no power. This is why they tend to be violent(male trait), failing societies. Need more girl power…


  3. Lurker says:

    Raise your hand if you want to sacrifice your life or the lives of your kids to *free* the women of Saudi Arabia.
    I’ll send you military recruitment forms if you provide me with your address.
    Since I see this as yet another example of The *Fighting* Keyboard Bombadiers, I doubt I’ll get enough takers from Steve’s posters to fill a bathroom stall, much less a brigade willing to lay down their lives for the *freedom* of Saudi women.
    Our *liberation* of Iraq has resulted in an almost complete destruction of women’s rights in Iraq, and yet we think, with our unbelievable chutzpah, that we can *liberate* the women of Saudi Arabia– by what?
    Sanctions? An ocean of blood? Both of which worked SO WELL in Iraq (rolls eyes…) Sanctions killing the children, the sick and the elderly, while the bombings/ invasion ended up killing them and everyone else.
    Although death is the ultimate liberation — no more pesky credit card bills, car payments or mortgages. No more having to hear about Britney Spears as well, which is a definite plus.
    U.S. intervention will not help the average Saudi, female or male. Any attempt to influence Saudi policy, military or otherwise, will result in the country circling its wagons.
    It will be just like what has happened in Iran, which was making great strides towards freedom from the mullahs until Bush, the putz, put it on his “axis of evil” countries-to-attack list.
    Lest we forget, Saudi Arabia is the jewel in the crown for the neo-cons. Interventionist *liberals* are the enablers and the patsies of that sinister group, and most of them are too dumb to realize it.


  4. Robert M. says:

    So long as a society represses HALF of its population as a matter of policy–because it believes there is no acceptable life outside of its religious parameters and those parameters prescribe such a policy–then that society will continue to be made up of “little people” and there will be no hope for it.
    All humans are created equal, and as humans are endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (cf The UN Charter among other documents.)
    not Incremental Change,
    Revolutionary Change.


  5. TonyForesta says:

    The Saudi’s and all their wahabist, salafist, jihadist bedfellows treat women like pets. Until these people join the 21st century, and the community of civilized nations, there will be no no “progress” for Saudi woman, or Saudi Arabia.
    Maybe (allah be praised) there will be a few less public beheadings, and a few Saudi princesses may be allowed to drive without being gangbanged, disfigured, or murdered in their sleep,- but the nation of Saudi Arabia, and the House of Saud who rules them with an iron fist perpetuates, glorifies, and advances the primitive, barbaric, and malignant teachings of wahabism and jihadist islam, and supports and abundantly funds the slaugher of innocent people everywhere on earth.
    Cowtowing and subverting American longterm interests and our principles to shield the House of Saud is rank policy, no matter how much or how great the profits might be for Exxon, Dyncorp, Boeing, and a few other select oligarchs beholden to the fascists in the Bush government.
    Until and unless the American government, and the American people demand redress and accountability from, and an immediate cessation of the nurturing, proselytizing, and abundant funding of jihadist islam by, the duplicitious American haters in the House of Saud, and the nation of Saudi Arabia there will be no real progress on any human rights, or the socalled neverendingwaronterror.
    Saudi Arabia is an enemy, – not a friend of America.
    “Deliver us from evil!”


  6. bks says:

    Sometime in the next century, the women of Saudi Arabia will attain the rights lost by the women of Iraq under the Bush regime.


  7. Homer says:

    Just think, after a few hundred billion dollars and a few oceans of blood, Iraq is actually regressing…..
    Violations of ‘Islamic teachings’ take deadly toll on Iraqi women
    By Arwa Damon
    BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — The images in the Basra police file are nauseating: Page after page of women killed in brutal fashion — some strangled to death, their faces disfigured; others beheaded. All bear signs of torture.
    The women are killed, police say, because they failed to wear a headscarf or because they ignored other “rules” that secretive fundamentalist groups want to enforce.
    “When I came to Basra a year ago,” he says, “two women were killed in front of their kids. Their blood was flowing in front of their kids, they were crying. Another woman was killed in front of her 6-year-old son, another in front of her 11-year-old child, and yet another who was pregnant.”
    [Keywords: Islamic fundamentalism; 9/11; Iraq; President G. W. Bush; Saudi Arabia; Iraq; WMD; Democracy; 9/11; Iraq; President G. W. Bush; Human Rights; Iraq; Freedom; Islamic fundamentalism; Iraq; Sunni orthodoxy; Shari’a; Islamic law — Middle East; President G. W. Bush]


  8. clio says:

    As a trend in Saudi women’s rights are pretty micro.
    How’s that pardon for the convicted witch coming?


  9. TonyForesta says:

    Great Steve, maybe the Saudi’s can begin addressing why they would let Saudi young women to burn to death locked in their doomed school, because they did not have a appropriate male escorts.
    More to the point, elements in the duplicitious America hating wahabi’s in the House of Saud continue nurturing and abundantly funding all the jihadist mass murder gangs including al Quaida.
    95% of the Saudi population hates America and all Americans. Infidels, that would be us, are not allowed to walk in Mecca and Medina and befoul their holy sites.
    Saudi Arabia ruthlessly uses their oil wealth and resources and our pathological addiction to oil as a weapon leverage to leverage and potentially batter America.
    The House of Saud may be “good friends” of the fascists in the Bush government, and their oleaginous minions, – but Saudi Arabia is an arch enemy of the American people.
    “Deliver us from evil!”


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