Yes, you read that headline right. Saudi women will be allowed to vote and run in the next municipal elections. They will also be appointed to the Shoura Council in its next term. As I said on Twitter yesterday, this is big news for women in Saudi Arabia any way you look at it. You can read more in this blogpost that I wrote on NPR’s The Two-way blog. I have also created a storify to collect the reactions from people that I follow on Twitter that you can read after jump.
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.
King Abdullah was by far the most generous gift-giver to President Barack Obama, his family and administration, according to documents released by the State Department on Tuesday. The King gave Obama, his wife and daughters nearly $190,000 in luxury items in 2009, including the single most valuable gift reported to have been given to U.S. officials that year in 2009: a ruby and diamond jewelry set for Michelle Obama worth $132,000.
However, don’t expect to see the first lady wearing the fancy gems anytime soon. By law, most gifts to American officials must be turned over to the government and the jewelry has already been sent to the National Archives. Why do they accept these gifts if they can’t keep them? According to the documents, “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US Government.”
See a list of the most interesting gifted items after the jump.
- Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. But when they go outside the cities they usually get behind the wheel for fun. Sometimes, accidents happen. This week, a young woman in her twenties died along with three female friends when her car overturned outside Riyadh.
- King Abdullah arrived to the US on Monday for treatment of a herniated spinal disc and a blood clot that is causing him back pain. Worrying news for the Saudis, no doubt. Interestingly, the royal court seems pretty transparent about the King’s health situation. By Saudi standards, this type of transparency is quite unusual.
- Residents of the Middle East who are heavy viewers of Arab television news networks like Al Jazeera are more likely to view their primary identity as that of Muslims, rather than as citizens of their own country, a new study suggests. Huh?
- Lou K has been on a roll lately. His latest: How to create a Viral Email (Saudi Edition).
- Katherine Zoepf was in Riyadh earlier this year to report on women’s issues. Her latest piece on Saudi female athletes was published on the front page of the Times last Saturday. I actually never bought the argument that the IOC would ban Saudi Arabia from competing in the Olympics because of the restrictions it puts on women’s sports.
- Neil Patrick says, “All in all, substantive Saudi reform is largely illusive.” That’s debatable. What is not debatable is that many of the changes made since 2005 lack an institutional basis and have not captured our imagination, mine at least.
- I was interviewed by Swedish television a while I ago. I said things. Jameel al-Theyabi, editor of the Saudi edition of al-Hayat daily, said things, too. I don’t think that Moroccan journalist Mohammed al-Jama’ai wears a suit to work everyday. That’s not my laptop, I’m a Mac. I hate the adjective ‘absolutely.’ What else? Oh, I’m not religious.
- After reading his name on this blog, Caryle Murphy decided to meet Malik Nejer and then she wrote this nice profile of him for The National daily, which is based in Abu Dhabi. “Sometimes it’s scary when you’re alone and you feel like you’re rebellious against a culture and an entire society,” he said. But I don’t think this is the case anymore. Thanks to the internet, Malik and other artists and activists who challenge the conventional wisdom of our conformist society have come to realize that they are not alone, and that there are at least some people out there who are like-minded and have similar ideas.
- Abdullah Alami will be happy to hear this:
“I want to also thank our friends, the American people, and I also would like to thank our friends here in the media,” King Abdullah said at the end of his statement. “May God spare us from all of the bad things they can do to us.” As Obama chucked, Abdullah added, “And may God bless us with all the positive things they can do for us and for humanity.” Obama chimed in: “Well, that is an excellent prayer. Thank you.”
Here’s the video. The quote above starts at 8:35.
- King Abdullah will meet the American President tomorrow. Abdullah Alami has an open letter to Mr. Obama. I find it naïve of Alami to ask Obama to stop the American media from criticizing Saudi Arabia. The American President does not control the American media. Hell, if he had any control over the media he would probably try to stop them from criticizing him. Don’t get me wrong. I hate to see my country being criticized unfairly. But I believe that the best way to stop the others from criticizing us is not by asking them but rather by fixing our issues and solving our problem.
- Laylah fromt the Blue Abaya blog has some advice to Western women about what they can do in Riyadh to fight boredom and make good use of their time in the capital. She makes some nice suggestions that could be also useful to male expats, and even to some Saudi citizens.