A Saudi court has sentenced Shaima Jastaina to 10 lashes for breaking the country's ban on female drivers. The ruling came just two days after King Abdullah said women would be allowed to vote in local elections scheduled for 2015 and serve on the shura advisory council — firsts that were widely welcomed as a victory for women's rights. Considering Jastaina's sentence, is life really getting better for Saudi women on balance?
Women are still treated like second-class citizens: Abdullah's suffrage announcement was nothing but a public relations trick, says Nina Shea at National Review. Letting women vote means nothing — the local and shura councils are "powerless." What's worse, the ailing, 88-year-old king might not be around in 2015, and his successor, "Wahhabi hardliner" Prince Nayef, will probably rescind the promise. To understand how the country's leaders really feel about women, look at the decision to whip a woman for driving.
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Limited progress is better than none: Saudi women are definitely getting "mixed signals," says the Associated Press. King Abdullah appears to be interested in real reform, but he has to push "gently for change without antagonizing the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population." The king got the backing of high-ranking clerics before announcing women's suffrage. But Tuesday's harsh sentencing shows that the hardline religious establishment that controls the courts won't give up without a fight.
If Saudia Arabia really wants change, it will let women drive: It's ridiculous to praise Saudi Arabia for progress on human rights, says David Keyes at The Daily Beast, in a week when it "beheads a man for sorcery" and sentences a woman to 10 lashes for driving a car. That only proves "how low the bar is" in a "theocratic, gender-apartheid dictatorship." If Abdullah wants the world to see him as a reformer, he doesn't have to wait until 2015 — he can stop the whipping of women for driving today.
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