My Op-Ed in the New York Times today

Last week, the New York Times asked me if I would be interested in writing for the newspaper about the Obama visit. Of course I was. Today, NYT publishes my article as part of seven views from the Middle East about what Obama should say in his much anticipated speech in Cairo tomorrow. Check it out. Here’s a picture of the voting paper that I mention in the last paragraph:

Voted!

Municipal Elections Postponed

Saudi Arabia’s upcoming municipal elections are likely to be put off for at least two years, informed sources told Saudi Gazette last week. The elections are scheduled for 2009, but the sources said they might be postponed while the government conducts a study to evaluate the previous cycle. Sounds like a lame excuse, if you ask me. Why is it only now that they are thinking about studying the previous elections and their results? Isn’t this supposed to be an ongoing process since day 1? Why does it sound like an afterthought?

When I voted back in 2005 I thought I was making history. But shortly after the municipal councils were formed, disappointment quickly replaced excitement and pride. News emerged on how religious leaders manipulated elections using so-called “golden lists.” We found the councils to be powerless, handicapped by rigid regulations. Appointing the other half of council members seemed to harm more than help. When public frustration over the performance of the councils made its way to the media, elected members defended themselves saying they could only work within the very limited space given to them.

Earlier this year, five members of Hail municipal council resigned because they felt it was useless to occupy seats with virtually no power. But the resignation which attracted more media attention was that of Abdullah al-Suwailim, member of Riyadh municipal council, who resigned in protest to what he described as violations of Islamic rules during this year’s Eid Al-Fitr festivities in the city, namely: the lack of segregation of single men from families, non-Muslims entertaining audiences and live music that was played in one of the theatrical productions.

It is true that the previous elections were far from perfect and suffered from many notable shortcomings, but putting off the elections is not the answer. Postponing the elections raises serious concerns over the country’s commitment to reform and democratization. I believe that King Abdullah is committed to reform, and this has been obvious in the agenda he has pushed over the past few years. However, many officials show ignorance and indifference to this agenda, as well as a complete disregard to the aspirations of citizens who dare to dream of a better Saudi Arabia.