- Saudi women did drive on June 17. More than 50 of them drove, and the day went by peacefully for the most part. Check out my post for NPR’s Two-way blog to read more and hear from some of the women who got behind the wheel and defied the ban.
- I somehow made Foreign Policy’s Twitterati 100 list for the most influencial people on Twitter, and what’s great about it is that I’m in good company.
- Speaking of Foreign Policy, they published a good piece by Ebtihal Mubarak looking into the historical background of the demands for women driving in the country.
- Remember when I asked if there was hope for Saudi Arabia? ColdRevolt thinks there is none. She says, “Our society is not only backward for debating a basic human right, but looking at its reaction to the revolutionary movements across the Arab world, and the uprisings in Bahrain specifically… it’s absolutely hopeless.”
Category Archives: Politics
- Manal al-Sharif has been released on Tuesday. After her release, she released a statement in which announced that she will no longer be involved with the women’s driving campaign that is scheduled for June 17. The campaign, however, is still on track according a statement published on Facebook.
- Meanwhile, the Shoura Council said the they are ready to discuss the issue of women’s driving if asked to. Very funny. The speaker talks as if his council actually matters, as if they have a say in what does or doesn’t happen in the country. Even funnier, some people did ask the Shoura to discuss the issue. What the Shoura did? They called them to discuss the issue then cancelled the invitation on the same day.
- You think Saudi Arabia is a dry country? Think again. In the past six months, 243 drivers in Jeddah alone have had their driving licenses withdrawn after they were caught drunk-driving. I wonder what the numbers are like in Riyadh and also the Eastern Province, where legal access to alcohol is just a short drive across
the Johnny Walker birdgeKing Fahad Causeway.
- Stéphane Lacroix, who wrote extensively about Islamists in Saudi Arabia, says the reason why these have been largely silent during this season of popular uprisings in the region is because the government has effectively co-opted them. The relationship between the regime and Sahwa is mutually beneficial, and neither party is willing to lose the benefits anytime soon.
- Eman al-Nafjan has a good roundup on the latest in Manal al-Sharif’s case. Al-Nafjan was on also on CNN to talk about the issues yesterday.
- Wikileaks documents reveal that the US government been quietly putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive, the Guardian reports.
- Sabria Jawhar says “There was a time when I firmly believed the endless debate about Saudi women banned from driving cars was trivial. It distracted Saudis from the real problems of the denial of women’s rights: employment, education, guardianship abuses, inheritance, and fair and equitable treatment in the Saudi judicial system. The arrest and imprisonment of Manal Al-Sherif, 32, after driving a car in Khobar, has changed all that.” I have said it before and I will say it again: this issue has become a symbol for all other reform issues in the country, especially the ones related to women status. It has become like a psychological barrier. If we can overcome this, then we can cruise into our other challenges with more confidence and determination.
- What if Manal al-Sharif were American, and Erin Brockovich were Saudi…
- Tariq Alhomayed, the man who turned Asharq al-Awsat from a respected newspaper into a joke, weighs in on the women driving issue. Alhomayed fails to name Manal al-Sharif, but he says “She was stopped and told not to drive because there is no organization in place [to regulate female driving], but she returned the following day to drive yet again.” Well, he needs to get his facts checked because this is simply not true. Al-Sharif did not drive again after her first arrest, and she was arrested again from her house late at night in violation of the Saudi law of criminal procedures. Then he went on to say that she filmed her actions and uploaded them to YouTube “in order to provoke people.” How can he speculate about her motive like that when she is still in jail? But hey, at least Alhomayed offers a solution to get us out of this mess: “It would be useful to immediately announce the formation of a committee to study this issue,” he says. Yeah right, that usually works.
- Saudi women activists are planning to show up in polling centers in the country’s major cities to demand their right to participate in the upcoming municipal elections when the registration starts today. The campaign is mainly organized via Facebook and Twitter.
- Prince Bandar bin Sultan, aka Bandar Bush, is back and John Hannah argues that the United States government should make sure that they have him on their side. Some Saudis, though, are not so thrilled about Bandar’s return. “Whenever he appears in the scene, I become very nervous!” tweeted reform activist Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani.
- Abdulaziz Sager calls the Gulf monarchies to understand the repercussions of the “Arab Spring,” and that it would be folly to think that the arrangements of the past can last indefinitely. “If the ruling families of the Gulf want to maintain their legitimacy, they need to adapt quickly to the changing times and enact substantive political reform that reflects their people’s aspirations,” he wrote in the Washington Post.
By Eman al-Guwaifli
What will happen?
The elections process to choose municipal elections will start on April 23 with voters registration, and it will end by casting ballots on September 23. Starting from this moment, the scenario of this upcoming summer seems very clear.
On April 23, the voters registration will begin, and the numbers will be very low (in 2005, the number of voters in Riyadh was 140,000 Saudi men out of 1.9 million Saudi males living there). The polling stations will be dead empty, and despite this, the Saudi press will continue its coverage, singing praise for the “baby steps of democracy,” justifying that by saying “it fits us,” that it is in line with “the lack of awareness” in our society and the domination of its traditional structure, the ignorance of democratic mechanisms, and the lack of making responsible choices, etc.
Also, the same press will focus on the competition between candidates they will call Islamists, and others they will call liberals, and they will say the competition between the two parties is heated, and that they are electoral blocs being formed in secret, and “golden lists, blessed lists, appeals, joy and battles…” The press will cover the events of the different camps, and the mercenaries will have a golden opportunity: preachers, self-improvement trainers, folk poets, journalists and actors. On September 22, the ballot boxes will open, and it will be a culmination of all the comicality and hollowness in the scene.
There will be local and foreign journalists who will watch what is going on, ready to describe the scene of “elections in Saudi Arabia” using that ridiculous word they usually use when they write about our local stories: “Interesting.” And it becomes even more ridiculous when the scene is not ambiguous or confusing, but rather very obvious and clear. And questions will be asked about the significance of what is going on, “Why?”, and the answer will be imposed by those who shout higher than the rest.
I wrote this post specifically to answer this question. What is going to happen is clear to me from now. The announcement of the return of the municipal elections was not welcomed on the Internet (see #Intekhab). Some bloggers and writers have announced they will boycott the elections for different reasons, and it seems that this circle will expand to include other social forces and diverse elites. In such a situation, facing a “democratic practice” in a very non-democratic society, it does not seem that a silent boycott is enough.
When a non-democratic society silently boycott the only available democratic practice, it would be easy for many parties to impose their own interpretation of the scene. Inevitably, there would be those who will say the low voters turnout reflects “the Saudi people’s rejection of democracy which they view as bad innovation” as Jihad al-Khazen did recently on BBC. This message will come from religious and semi-official institutions, and its echo will be heard in the local press. I can see from now the international media present like they did on March 11 to film the empty streets, filming the empty polling stations and receiving explanations from local dignitaries who will tell them that the Saudi society “still don’t realize the importance of democracy, is not ready to practice it, and the evidence is what you see…” If this happens, it will a hijacking of scene’s meaning allowed by the silent boycott. That’s why I believe that those who boycott the elections should declare their reasons. When deliberately refrain from casting your vote in the ballot box, you should cast that vote in another place.
Why am I boycotting the elections?
It may seem a bit comical for a woman to write this sentence, because women are not allowed to vote anyway, and some men have announced they will boycott the elections for precisely this reason. But I would boycott the elections even if women were given the right to take part. The problem is more than simply excluding women from elections, it is in the elections themselves.
The municipal elections deserve to be boycotted because it will take place in 2011. The logic of this year is different from the logic of 2005. At the time the talk was about “early signs of democracy,” “moving toward popular participation,” “first step,” and “an experiment.” This talk was acceptable then to some extent. But it is 2011, a year in which the revolutions have shaken the traditional thinking of gradual change. The revolutions have also changed that reluctance about the importance of popular participation to become more prominent in the public conscience as a necessity that no country can function without. In such circumstances, this conscience cannot accept the municipal elections because they are another incarnation of the “gradual change” myth. Moreover, the municipal elections in their current form (only half of the councils is elected) have nothing to do with any form of democracy and popular participation!
The municipal elections deserve to be boycotted because democracy is not a ballot box. Democracy is about conceding power to the people. When the ballot box does not lead to conceding power to people and using this power effectively, then the ballot box does not lead to democracy. The municipal councils had no impact on the lives of people, and the comical manner in which their mandate has been extended for two years shows that they have nothing to do with the power of the people or delegating that power from them. How can an elected councilman gets his power from voters, then keeps to exercise it thanks to a government decision? This is, by the way, why democratic countries hold elections on schedule, because an elected official cannot continue to use his power without the consent of those — the voters — who have given him this power in the first place.
Have you noticed that they are using the same excuses that they have used to exclude women in 2004? The lack of separate polling stations for women, the need to learn from the experience with a promise to take part the next time around, etc. During the past seven years, we have built KAUST and sent 80,000 students to study abroad but somehow we still can’t prepare polling stations for women’s participation. Due to all this comicality and lack of seriousness, the municipal elections deserve to be boycotted.
I believe the elections deserve to be boycotted because they are not serious enough, because they are preposterous, and because their results don’t really affect my life. I boycott the only elections in Saudi Arabia because at this moment and more than anytime before, I want democracy, and the way I see it is through a fully elected parliament with a legislative authority and powers of oversight and accountability. I’m boycott the municipal elections because they mock my dreams.
If you are going to boycott the elections then write (in the blog, Twitter, Facebook) why you are doing that. This is a national duty now.
If you are a Saudi journalist or writer who thinks of writing about the “society that don’t understand the importance of elections,” please reconsider.
If you are a foreign journalist, please don’t believe those will tell you that we are boycotting because “we don’t understand, we are not ready…” Consider my opinion. And whatever you are going to write, please, don’t call the municipal elections “interesting,” please!
- After several postponements, the Saudi government finally decided to move ahead with the long-delayed municipal elections. Surprisingly, they now seem in a rush to get it over with: voter registration opens on April 23rd, and the elections will be held on September 22nd. Women, however, will not be allowed to participate. “We are not ready for the participation of women in these municipal elections,” Election Commissioner Abdul Rahman Al-Dahmash told Arab News. I think we deserve a better explanation. I have some harsh words to the elections commission, but for now let me just quote John Burgess: “Dude. It’s been nearly six years since the last election … What have you been doing in the meantime?”
- It’s been almost four years since the Shoura Council shot down a proposal to move the weekend in Saudi Arabia from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday. Not much has happened since then, but al-Riyadh daily somehow thinks it is time to talk about this again (English here), especially after government employees and students were given Saturday off upon the King’s return. They asked seven citizens, and they all agreed that changing the weekend would be a good thing. The paper did not think it was necessary to ask anyone in in the government or Shoura Council.
- Speaking of Shoura, the toothless council has called for more media freedom. I wish I can take this council or anything it says seriously, but I really can’t. All members of the council are appointed. Do we actually expect them to be anything but yes-men?
- Jehan took a walk at the wadi of Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter, aka the DQ, and returned with some nice photos. Although I complained before about how hard it is to enter the DQ, I have to say that I actually miss the place. My memories of the place are bittersweet, but I miss it nevertheless. If you live in the city and have access to the DQ you probably want to take advantage of the nice weather these days and enjoy a walk there.
I speak to you today amidst extraordinary circumstances surrounding our country. With revolutions and unrest spreading in the region, and the winds of change sweeping across the Arab world, we face a situation in which we muse make critical decisions.
Today, we have to ensure a choice between starting to reform ourselves now, or waiting until we are forced to reform. In a fast-moving world, we need to make that choice quickly. We simply cannot afford to be late.
My family has been honored to serve the people of this great country for centuries. And as a King for the past few years, I have been humbled by the unlimited love and support you generously extended to me. My responsibility as a leader of this young nation obliges me to be frank with you.
The challenges ahead of us are enormous, and to overcome these challenges many sacrifices must be made. After deep thinking and long deliberation, and after consulting my family members and close advisers, I have concluded that to make sure a bright future of our country we must move forward with a clear vision and a real drive for reform. Therefore, I have decided on a set of measures to be taken in a timely manner, and they are as follows:
To signal my personal commitment to turn the state into a constitutional monarchy, I have ordered the formation of committee composed of a diverse group from the country’s finest men and women, coming from different backgrounds that show the richness and complexity of our society. The committee will be responsible for writing a national constitution over the next twelve months. Once the constitution draft is ready, the people will vote on it in a national referendum.
This constitution, which will derive its content from our history and traditions while looking forward into the future, will serve as a social contract between the people and the state, stating that the people are the source of power. It will emphasize the separation of the three branches of government: the executive, judicial and legislative. It will also reaffirm the equality of all citizens before law to ensure justice and equal opportunity.
The constitution will unequivocally state responsibility of the state in guaranteeing human rights, protecting the right to peaceful expression of opinion, and reinforce public freedoms, including the right to form political and professional associations, leading to a fully elected parliament and fully elected government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The constitution will, in no ambiguous terms, stress the role of women as full partners in building our country, and will reflect the government commitment to empower them and ensure that no discrimination is being practiced against them.
To indicate my goodwill and show my true commitment to reform according to the aforementioned principles, I have given these orders to be effective immediately:
- I have ordered the release of all political prisoners.
- I have ordered to lift the ban on women’s driving.
- I have ordered to stop all forms of censorship.
Fellow citizens, it is my hope that these first steps will lead to comprehensive political and social reforms, and will allow us to move into the future with confidence and pride. God bless you, and may God bless our great country.
PS. After it was announced that the King will give a speech, I started to imagine what it would be like. What you read above is the result of my imagination. I believe King Abdullah’s actual speech last Friday was loved by the people, and the royal decrees that followed it will benefit wide segments of society. I just had something different in mind, and I wanted to share it with you here.