I love it when women put the fear of God into countries. That’s how I like to explain Saudi Arabia’s decision to delay municipal elections for two years.
It’s all the fault of four Kuwaiti women who made history on May 17 by winning seats in their country’s parliamentary elections. Their victory was made all the more delicious because fundamentalists long opposed to women’s political rights lost several seats.
A day later, the Saudis postponed their elections, slated for October. They know the ideas that Saudi women can pick up from their Kuwaiti sisters.
In the aftermath of Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, many Kuwaiti men and women fled the violence by driving to neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Inspired, 47 Saudi women violated the kingdom’s ban on driving by taking to the wheel in a convoy through the capital Riyadh.
And to this day, the country whose oil reserves fuel most of the world’s cars continues to deny women the right to drive a car, vote and run for office. Men were enfranchised only in 2005 when the kingdom briefly flirted with democracy by allowing its first local elections. Fundamentalist clerics ensured they remained off limits to women.
Just as they had in Kuwait, where for years they blocked legislation for women’s suffrage. Women finally won their political rights in 2005, but failed in two subsequent elections to win seats in the 50-member parliament. But now, with neither quotas nor the backing of political parties, the four successful women candidates have proven that once conservative voting habits can change.
When conservative Saudi clerics claim to be upholding “Islam,” point to neighbour Kuwait and ask, “Whose Islam?” Saudi Arabia can run but it can’t hide from the change that surrounds it.