On Sunday King Abdullah opened the new Majlis As Shura, or Consultative Council, session in Riyadh with a speech heard around the world. Giving Saudi women the right to participate in Municipal Council elections as of 2015 and to be eligible for service in the Majlis stirred both applause and backhanded criticism. The reform minded King’s move was hailed as a positive development by some and derided as falling too short by others. “Thanks for shaking things up by bringing about women’s voting rights, but how do you expect them to get to the polls if they can’t drive,” so it goes. Damned if you do and damned if you do.
Emblematic of that reaction was a political cartoon in this morning’s American Bedu blog showing two women in abayas under a notation “Saudi Arabia: 2015.” The first one asks, “Did you vote..?” The answer, “No… my husband wouldn’t drive me.”
The question of women driving is never far from the top of the list of issues that stand in the way of progress for women in the Kingdom on many people’s minds, especially among those outside the Kingdom looking in. It was important enough to be among the questions asked in 2005 of King Abdullah in his first television interview after assuming the throne — his questioner was ABC News correspondent Barbara Walters — as reported on SUSRIS.com in October 2005.
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