Right to Vote But No Driving

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Saudi monarch grants kingdom’s women right to vote, but driving ban remains in force

By Associated Press

2011-09-27T195104Z_01_BTRE78Q1J5Z00_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-SAUDI-WOMEN-DRIVING

Veiled Saudi women take photos of their children during a ceremony to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s Independence Day in Riyadh in this September 23, 2009 file photograph.

REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed/Files

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, considered a reformer by the standards of his own ultraconservative kingdom, decreed on Sunday that women will for the first time have the right to vote and run in local elections due in 2015.

For the nation’s women, it is a giant leap forward, though they remain unable to serve as Cabinet ministers, drive or travel abroad without permission from a male guardian.

Saudi women bear the brunt of their nation’s deeply conservative values, often finding themselves the target of the unwanted attention of the kingdom’s intrusive religious police, who enforce a rigid interpretation of Islamic Shariah law on the streets and public places like shopping malls and university campuses.

In itself, Sunday’s decision to give the women the right to vote and run in municipal elections may not be enough to satisfy the growing ambition of the kingdom’s women who, after years of lavish state spending on education and vocational training, significantly improved their standing but could not secure the same place in society as that of their male compatriots.

That women must wait four more years to exercise their newly acquired right to vote adds insult to injury since Sunday’s announcement was already a long time coming — and the next local elections are in fact scheduled for this Thursday.

“Why not tomorrow?” asked prominent Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Hawaidar. “I think the king doesn’t want to shake the country, but we look around us and we think it is a shame … when we are still pondering how to meet simple women’s rights.”

The announcement by King Abdullah came in an annual speech before his advisory assembly, or Shura Council. It was made after he consulted with the nation’s top religious clerics, whose advice carries great weight in the kingdom.

It is an attempt at “Saudi style” reform, moves that avoid antagonizing the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population. Additionally, it seems to be part of the king’s drive to insulate his vast, oil-rich country from the upheavals sweeping other Arab nations, with popular uprisings toppling regimes that once looked as secure as his own.

Fearing unrest at home, the king in March announced a staggering $93 billion package of incentives, jobs and services to ease the hardships experienced by some Saudis. In the meantime, he sent troops to neighbor and close ally Bahrain to help the tiny nation’s Sunni ruling family crush an uprising by majority Shiites pressing for equal rights and far-reaching reforms.

In contrast, King Abdullah in August withdrew the Saudi ambassador from Syria to protest President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on a seven-month uprising that calls for his ouster and the establishment of a democratic government.

“We didn’t ask for politics, we asked for our basic rights. We demanded that we be treated as equal citizens and lift the male guardianship over us,” said Saudi activist Maha al-Qahtani, an Education Ministry employee who defied the ban on women driving earlier this year. “We have many problems that need to be addressed immediately.”

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The Unanswered Question in Afghanistan: Why?

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jim Hightower

America’s long, long war in Afghanistan has drained more than 1,500 precious lives and a trillion dollars from our country. But, finally, this enormous outlay paid off this year with the capture and killing of that al-Qaida demon, Osama bin Laden, who attacked America and was the reason our military went into Afghanistan.

Oh, wait — Osama wasn’t in Afghanistan, was he? He was comfortably ensconced in an urban compound in Pakistan, whose leaders are supposedly our allies in the bloody Afghan War. And it wasn’t the war effort that got bin Laden, it was old-time spy work, culminating in a raid involving a small team of Navy Seals, a dog and two helicopters.

So why have two presidents and a decade of Congress dumped so many lives and so much money into a country that poses no threat to us? Afghanistan is an impoverished, anarchic, largely illiterate land that’s split into ancient tribal factions and innumerable fiefdoms controlled by rival warlords. They have no desire or ability to attack us, some 8,000 miles away.

The only reason we’re given for being in Afghanistan is that we must keep the al-Qaida terrorists network from establishing bases there. But — like bin Laden — al-Qaida left this country years ago and now operates transnationally in Pakistan, Yemen, Uzbekistan and elsewhere, including England and Germany.

Yet, we’re told we must continue to pour American lives, dollars and reputation into Afghanistan. But … why? To create a central, democratically elected government with a 300,000-member army and police force, we’re told. But why? To stabilize the country, they say. But, why? To keep al-Qaida out, they repeat, closing the endless loop on a Kafkaesque rational.

Yes, President Obama has finally started a slow withdrawal of U.S. troops, but that’ll take at least three years, more than $300 billion and untold numbers of shattered lives. The questions remains: Why?

At least one person was giddy with excitement upon hearing President Obama’s announcement on June 22 that all of America’s combat troops would depart from Afghanistan by 2014: Hamid Karzai.

“A moment of happiness for Afghanistan,” exulted the incurably corrupt, inept, weak and pompous Afghan president. Our leaders put this ingrate in power, and both the lives of our soldiers and billions of our tax dollars have been spent to prop up his sorry excuse for a government — yet he’s the one saying “good riddance.” It puts the dumb in dumbfounding.

The dumbest and most shameful aspect of America’s 10-year Afghan War is the pretension that Karzai represents an exercise in democracy-building. Installed in the presidency by dictate of the Bush-Cheney regime in 2002, he is widely despised and ridiculed by the people and has clung to power only through flagrant electoral fraud, not only in his two presidential “elections,” but also in last year’s parliamentary contest.

Karzai was PO’d that 62 candidates he favored lost or were disqualified by the country’s independent election commission because of fraud. So, Hamid haughtily set up his own special court to review those results, while also bringing criminal charges against several of the independent election commissioners.

Last week, only one day after Obama’s withdrawal announcement, Karzai’s kangaroo court disqualified the 62 parliamentary winners, replacing them with his chosen ones. Of course, the 62 winners are refusing to budge from their seats. This has created a governmental stalemate, but that suits Karzai perfectly, for it allows him the defacto power to rule without parliament. As a top opposition leader puts it: “Karzai does not believe in the rule of law; he thinks democracy doesn’t work in his favor.”

It’s both insane and immoral for our leaders to cause even one more American to die for Karzai. Tell Obama to bring all of our troops home, pronto. The White House comment line is (202) 456-1111, or www.whitehouse.gov/contact.

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