Recently Saudi Arabia as a country has made news for the wrong reasons largely due to their poor human rights record and links to extremism. These headlines have not perturbed the British government though who maintain a good relationship with the country.
The British government have always claimed the best way to challenge Saudi Arabia on their human rights record was to engage in a relationship with them. This weekend we might have seen the first signs that this pressure and that from other Western countries is having an impact. In elections which took place over the weekend, women for the first time were allowed to vote and participate with up to 20 women being elected to municipal councils.
Progress as history shows can often be slow. Great reform doesn’t always happen instantly. Saudi Arabia as a country has a long traditional, conservative background. This type of thinking is deep rooted in the country and will take time to change. These are deep obstacles and hurdles which need to be overcome, but can be overcome as the weekend begins to show before reform can truly flourish.
Despite what happened in these elections life is not great for women in Saudi Arabia. They were not allowed to address men directly and the councils they have been elected to only have limited powers. They are not allowed to drive and are treated as second class citizens. The progress made in these elections is notable but is only the first part of a long journey.
Rightly criticism of Saudi Arabia has been fairly harsh in recent times. As a country their values are questionable and should represent an era long-gone. However these elections were good news. They were a signal that the country is moving in the right direction. This deserves praise. Saudi Arabia still has a way to go but any progress is positive and should not be underplayed. Therefore we should applaud greatly what has just happened and the signal it sends.
Article by Mike Hough
Photograph – Bloomberg