Saudi women win suffrage: Credit the Arab Spring?

King Abdullah announces that in four years, the puritanical kingdom will let women vote and run for office — though they still won't be able to drive

King Abdullah announced this weekend that in 2015, Saudi Arabian women will have the right to vote, a seemingly major shift for the conservative Middle Eastern kingdom.
(Image credit: REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed)

Saudi King Abdullah surprised both his rigidly conservative kingdom and outsiders Sunday by announcing that by the next elections, scheduled for 2015, women will be able to vote, run for elective office, and formally join his advisory Shura Council. A self-described "cautious" reformer, the 87-year-old Abdullah said his royal decree conformed with Islam, and showed the House of Saud's refusal to "marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia." Is this a sign that the Arab Spring is still reverberating in the Muslim world?

Yes. This is a welcome change: Saudi Arabia "seemed to sit calm and largely untroubled" as the tumultuous Arab Spring buffeted the region, says Britain's The Independent in an editorial. But that impression was obviously, and thankfully, misleading. These changes fall well short of making women equal members of Saudi society — they still can't drive! — but it's still "startling, and welcome, progress in the very land where it seemed least likely."

"Veils and votes"

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This is good news — but it's not about the Arab Spring: Change is still sweeping the Arab world, says Abu Dhabi's The National in an editorial, but "Saudi Arabia is moving along a road of political and social development at its own pace and in its own way." Opening the vote to women has been in the works for years, and Abdullah's decree is part of his incremental approach to reform. Still, this latest announcement "will have far-reaching consequences for the kingdom and the region."

"A milestone for political rights of Saudi women"

Believe it when you see it: This will be big news if women actually get to vote in a few years, says Nesrine Malik at Britain's Guardian. But "followers of Saudi politics will recall that similar assurances have been voiced before and not acted upon," due largely to a lack of political will amid bureaucratic stalling. There is no law against women driving, for instance, just red tape. If the Saudi's are true to type, women's suffrage will be "granted in principle but never in practice."

"Saudi Arabia's slow progress on women's rights"

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