Rule of Law – Saudi Justice by Ibrahim Al Mugaiteeb (The Wall Street Journal – April 16, 2006) At a recent economic forum in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, officials wowed foreign visitors with glitzy displays of a “changed” kingdom. Minister of Information Iyad al-Madani surprised everyone when he urged Saudi women to apply for driving licenses; the forum sponsor, the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, sent shock waves through the country by electing two Saudi women to its board. Later, a display at the Riyadh International Book Fair included a Bible for the first time.
Under pressure from Washington after 9/11, and from his own people since terrorist attacks hit Saudi targets in 2003, King Abdullah has taken steps toward liberalization. Girls’ and boys’ education is now merged, an effort has been made to revise textbooks that endorsed intolerance, and elections (restricted to men) to municipal advisory boards have been held. But international pressure for democratization has waned following electoral gains by Islamists in Egypt, Iraq and Palestine, and in Saudi Arabia’s limited municipal vote. Many worry that reforms would oust the ruling al Saud family and sweep more conservative religious forces to power.
Saudi officials encourage this thinking, arguing that their government is “more progressive than its people.” Many Saudis would beg to differ–if they could. They are ready for change and demand their rights. And while many in the West see Saudi Arabia as key to the stability of energy markets, they do not see the everyday insults to the rule of law that continually erode the country’s domestic stability.