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For Saudi Women, One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

Nina Shea

On the heels of an edict allowing women to “participate” in elections to powerless municipal councils and to be appointed to a toothless Shura council, today Saudi Arabia has sentenced a woman, “Shema,” to 30 lashes for driving while female, the BBC is reporting.

Also on the topic of Saudi women, Gulf analyst Simon Henderson, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has an interesting story, “All the King’s Women,“ at He quotes a diplomatic source as saying that the 88-year-old monarch is too sick to rule and “lucid for only a couple of hours a day.” He speculates that one of the king’s daughters is responsible for his decree on Sunday. Henderson notes that the king’s personal views on women are hardly modern and reveals he has long had a full Islamic complement of four wives, “two of whom were semi-permanent and the other two ‘rolled-over.’“ In any event, like me, Henderson also doubts that the king will be around in four years to enforce the decree on women’s rights to participate in the municipal councils’ elections and that his likely successor, Wahhabi hardliner Prince Nayef, is unlikely to do so.

In light of today’s development, it becomes clearer just how clever a public relations move the women’s political rights decree was.

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