Outside Saudi Arabia, most people would regard an end to the prohibition on women driving to be a small but essential sign of progress. King Abdullah, on the other hand, seems to imagine that he can signal a turn in the right direction by an even more miniscule step: he has “overturned a court ruling sentencing a Saudi woman to be lashed 10 times for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers.”
Simon Henderson writes:
Articles enumerating the advances in women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have, until now, tended to be rather short. There simply hasn’t been much to write about: Saudi women haven’t had many rights, at least not in terms Westerners usually understand — the right to vote, the right to drive, or the right to travel without a male guardian. But with King Abdullah’s royal decree on Sunday, Sept. 25, granting women the right to vote in municipal elections, there has now been a river of commentary placing this reform in the context of the upheaval elsewhere in the Arab world. This news, however, does not justify the tediously high word counts that the commentariat will undoubtedly reach over the next few days.
King Abdullah’s edict is certainly a change. It might even be progress. But some caution is necessary. Women will not actually be allowed to vote until municipal elections in 2015 — when they will also be allowed to stand as candidates. In Saudi Arabia’s nascent parliament, the appointed consultative council, change will come earlier: Women will be allowed to serve in the next session, which will begin in 2012.
The delay might matter. King Abdullah is 88 years old and has a variety of ailments. He might not be around this time next year. His nominated successor, Crown Prince Sultan, 87, is even less likely to be alive then; he currently resides in a New York City hospital and is believed to be terminally ill. The apparent next in line, the conservative Prince Nayef, likely has a different attitude toward women’s rights. In the past he has spoken out against the nascent campaign to allow women to drive.