Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I don't think this would have happened without the war in Iraq

Here's a story I never expected to see in my lifetime:

Saudi women will be able to fully participate in an election for the first time in this ultraconservative Islamic kingdom, after the government ordered a local chamber of commerce to allow female voters and candidates. The Jiddah Trade and Industry Chamber had rejected the nominations of 10 businesswomen to run for the chamber's governing board. Trade Minister Hashem bin Abdullah Yamani overruled this decision, a Saudi official said Friday. The move is a small but unprecedented step in Saudi Arabia, where women are under heavy restrictions. They are barred from driving a car while a male guardian must give permission for women to get an education or job. The minister made his decision on Tuesday after receiving petitions from businesswomen asking to be allowed to run, the Saudi official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't permitted to speak to the media. The minister ordered the election for the 18-member board to be postponed until Nov. 15 to give time for new candidates — including women — to come forward, the official said. Women make up about 10 percent of the 40,000 members of the chamber of commerce in Jiddah, the kingdom's second largest city which is located on the western coast. Earlier this year, businesswomen in the eastern city of Dammam were allowed to participate indirectly in the local commerce chamber election — but male guardians had to cast their votes for them. Women were prevented from voting or running in the country's landmark municipal elections in the first three months of this year. Those polls were widely viewed as part of the royal family's response to calls for political and social change.
I haven't heard NOW running around the street celebrating this victory, but it should be -- this is a staggering change in the Muslim world, coming from the country that has, for decades, been writing the checks for the most extreme Islamist education and conduct all over the Middle East. And of course, while cause and effect is often difficult to pinpoint, I'd bet a lot of money to support my belief that this change within Saudi Arabia came from U.S. pressure. I'd also be willing to bet that this pressure would have been meaningless to those who supply our addiction to Saudi oil if the pressure hadn't been backed up by the American military right across the Saudi border. For those of you who, like me, are always a little wavery on geography, I offer you this map, showing that Iraq -- and that means the U.S. -- sits right on top of our dear friends, the Saudis: (If your graphics are a little weak, Saudi Arabia is the huge pale yellow country. Iraq is the bright yellow country immediately above it.) This is the kind of ripple effect that we can only sit back and appreciate. It goes along with the Cedar Revolution as an incredibly useful byproduct of Pres. Bush's decision -- for whatever good or nefarious reasons you wish to assign him -- to splash up that poisonously stagnant Middle Eastern water.