Here’s an irony for you: while Republicans are doing everything they can to sell hatred of Islam and at the same time to restrict voting rights in this country – including those of women – Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia is granting voting rights to women. Soon there will be one less thing Republican political theology can use to distract from their own abominable treatment of women – the even more repressive treatment directed toward women by Islam.
Here’s the deal: 88-year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud said on Sunday that Saudi Arabian women will not only be given the right to vote but will be permitted to run in municipal elections. Haven’t we just been hearing a whole lotta griping out of Republicans that women shouldn’t even be working out of the home, that they should remain barefoot and pregnant at home with the kids? Sure, they make allowances for women to run contrary to what they say the Bible says (look at Michele Bachmann’s cherry-picking of scripture), but here is arguably the most repressive regime in the Middle East saying women can vote and hold political office.
Well, for one thing, the Saudi’s have more reason to fear a popular uprising than Republicans – for now.
And not only will women have the right to vote and hold office. Women will also be able to join the Shura Council, said the king in a five-minute speech:
“Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia (Islamic law), we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama (clerics) and others… to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term.”
“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote.”
The Shura Council advises the king and is listed in the CIA Factbook for Saudi Arabia as the kingdom’s legislative branch:
Consultative Council or Majlis al-Shura (150 members and a chairman appointed by the monarch to serve four-year terms); note – though the Council of Ministers announced in October 2003 its intent to introduce elections for a third of the Majlis al-Shura incrementally over a period of four to five years, to date no such elections have been held or announced.
What do we take away from all this? Apparently the Saudi king is paying more attention to the Islamic revolutions of the past year than are Republicans in this country. The message is clear and unmistakable: People want more rights, not fewer.
According to Reuters:
In practice, the measure will do little to change how the country is run: Saudi Arabia’s rulers allow elections only for half of the seats on municipal councils which have few powers. Only men will vote at the next elections which will take place next week; women will be allowed to vote in 2015.
It’s true as Reuters points out, that the king did not talk about the “broader issue of women’s social rights” in Saudi Arabia, such as the right to drive, or requirements to have a male relative’s permission to work or to leave the country, but this move by the king is clearly a step in the right direction – and that’s the key: the right direction, as opposed to the wrong direction our Republicans are heading down.
It’s all too easy for us to sit here pooh-pooh these developments as being only cosmetic but Saudi Arabian women are taking them seriously. Reuters again:
“This is great news,” said Saudi writer and women’s rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider. “Women’s voices will finally be heard. Now it is time to remove other barriers like not allowing women to drive cars and not being able to function, to live a normal life without male guardians.”
Of course, this is exactly where Republican political theology is headed: reducing women to appendages of men, serving men and their needs rather than having their voices heard.
And Saudi writer Nimah Ismail Nawwab told the BBC: “This is something we have long waited for and long worked towards.” The BBC reports that “She said activists had been campaigning for 20 years on driving, guardianship and voting issues.”
The White House expressed its approval, saying in a statement:
“The announcements made today represent an important step forward in expanding the rights of women in Saudi Arabia. We support King Abdullah and the people of Saudi Arabia as they undertake these and other reforms.”
It’s not that Republican political theology is opposed to treating women like they do in Islamic countries; they aim for the same thing here, after all. But it helps if they can point to somebody else who has a worse track record than they do whenever we point the finger at them. Perhaps if Saudi Arabian women are voting it will be more difficult for Republicans to attack the Nineteenth Amendment, which in 1920 finally gave women in this country the right to vote.
It’s important to remember it’s been less than a century here and that we have no right to act as though we are vastly superior to the Saudis. My grandmothers were born in an age that did not permit them to vote and our Christian society was no less grudging of that right than Islamic society is today. Go back another half century and we see the Bible being used to support the institution of slavery. So let’s put things in perspective and realize this development in Saudi Arabia is a big deal.
And this also is a big deal: Increasingly, Republican political theology demands that only rich white Protestants vote while the lower classes support them in a feudal-like structure that has little in common with the robust society and economy of the dawn of the American Republic. What the GOP wants is taxation without representation for the lower classes and representation without taxation for the rich.
Ironically, while we see the monarchy of Saudi Arabia introduce democratic reforms, we see our own democracy pushed toward the Saudi model, with voting rights not granted but restricted and decisions handed down, not voted upon. Perhaps it will take an American Spring to scare the GOP straight.
Image from CIA Factbook