The world applauded Saudi King Abdullah’s royal decree allowing women to vote in the 2015 municipal elections and even to become part of the Shura council. He also overturned the sentencing of a female driver to a lashing. In Saudi Arabia, these are big moves.
Not being allowed to drive and requiring a male chaperone will put a damper on turnout and theirability to vote as they wish, but it’s still an electrifying move to appease the youth. 2015 is a long time away, though, and King Abdullah is of old age, so we’ll see if it actually happens. This type of staged reform is what is needed in Saudi Arabia, as opposed to an Arab Spring revolution.
The question is what comes next. Lifting the ban on women driving seems the most likely next step as there is a large amount of support for it, especially since it will save families money who have to hire drivers that are usually Pakistani immigrants. However, there is a growing number of voices urging the Royal Family to reform the religious police.
It appears that the Royal Family is trying to win the clerical order to its side before moving against the religious police. An advisor to King Abdullah, Sheikh Abd Al-Muhsin Al-Obikan, is a senior cleric and he is accusing the religious police of violating Islamic principles (which, you can imagine, is very strong language).
The Middle East Media Research Institute summarized his comments: