Via The Week (link):
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
First woman minister: In a rare breakthrough for women’s rights, Saudi Arabia appointed its first female Cabinet minister this week. Noura bint Abdullah al-Fayez became deputy education minister in charge of a new department of girls’ education. “This is an honor not only for me but for all Saudi women,” she told the Riyadh Arab News. “I’ll be able to face challenges and create positive change.” In his first Cabinet reshuffle since assuming the throne in 2005, King Abdullah also replaced the chief of the religious police and the country’s top judge—two men who were known as enemies of women’s rights. The judge, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, ruled last year that TV station owners that broadcast “immoral” programs showing unveiled women could be killed. “This is the true start of the promises of reform,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent pro-reform newspaper editor.
What great allies we have in our quest nurture flourishing democracy in the Middle East!
From an article in the NY Times by Jane Perlez and David Rohde titled "Pakistan Rounds Up Musharraf’s Political Foes":
The government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, making no concessions a day after seizing emergency powers, rounded up leading opposition figures and said Sunday that parliamentary elections could be delayed for as long as a year.
Police officers in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, stood outside a press club Sunday. Journalists vowed to resist the crackdown.
Security forces were reported to have detained about 500 opposition party figures, lawyers and human rights advocates on Sunday, and about a dozen privately owned television news stations remained off the air. International broadcasters, including the BBC and CNN, were also cut off.
The crackdown, announced late Saturday night after General Musharraf suspended the Constitution, was clearly aimed at preventing public demonstrations that political parties and lawyers were organizing for Monday.
“They are showing zero tolerance for protest,” said Athar Minallah, a lawyer and a former minister in the Musharraf government.
Another NY Times article by David Sanger and David Rohde is titled "U.S. Is Likely to Continue Aid to Pakistan."
From an article in The Sunday Times by Nick Fielding and Sarah Baxter titled "Saudi Arabia is hub of world terror":
[In Saudi Arabia King Abdullah] is regarded as a modest reformer who has cracked down on home-grown terrorism and loosened a few relatively minor restrictions on his subjects’ personal freedom.
With oil prices surging, Saudi Arabia is growing in prosperity and embracing some modern trappings. Bibles and crucifixes are still banned, but internet access is spreading...
Yet wealthy Saudis remain the chief financiers of worldwide terror networks...
Extremist clerics provide a stream of recruits to some of the world’s nastiest trouble spots.
An analysis by NBC News suggested that the Saudis make up 55% of foreign fighters in Iraq. They are also among the most uncompromising and militant.
Half the foreign fighters held by the US at Camp Cropper near Baghdad are Saudis. They are kept in yellow jumpsuits in a separate, windowless compound after they attempted to impose sharia on the other detainees and preached an extreme form of Wahhabist Islam.
In recent months, Saudi religious scholars have caused consternation in Iraq and Iran by issuing fatwas calling for the destruction of the great Shi’ite shrines in Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, some of which have already been bombed. And while prominent members of the ruling al-Saud dynasty regularly express their abhorrence of terrorism, leading figures within the kingdom who advocate extremism are tolerated.
With friends like these...
From an AP article by Jim Krane on abcnews.com:
DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia Feb 20, 2006 (AP) A minor revolution has spread to this sprawling oil town, with six women running this week for seats on the local chamber of commerce in this deeply conservative country where Islam dictates strict segregation of the sexes.
Al-Edrisi and her colleagues in the Eastern Province, home to the world's richest oil fields, have climbed aboard a very small bandwagon. In an unprecedented November chamber of commerce election in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia's second-largest city, a pair of businesswomen became Saudi Arabia's first female elected officials.
Women are still banned from running or voting in municipal government elections, Saudi Arabia's first democratic experiment, which started last year. Electoral officials have said women might gain the right to cast ballots in political elections in 2009.
Saudi women lack many rights taken for granted in most of the rest of the world. They are not allowed to drive or to work in the same offices as men. Their ownership of businesses has, until recently, been restricted to ventures like hair salons, boutiques and spas.
Al-Edrisi, a clothing importer, says the kingdom's future depends on women joining public life. But she also believes Saudis won't tolerate rapid change, noting the chaos in Iraq after U.S. forces ousted Saddam Hussein.
"Iraq is horrifying for all of us," Al-Edrisi said. "We don't want upheaval no matter how much we want democracy. Stability is not overrated, especially in the Middle East."
But pressure for change is everywhere, including from the Bush administration, which Al-Edrisi says harms their cause by identifying it with America.