Monday, August 04, 2003

al islah (reform) is coming to Saudi Arabia?

There are some new faces in the Saudi cabinet. New people now control the ministries of health, agriculture, transport, and telecommunications. But the old guard still controls the major ministries. Crown Prince Abdullah is still in charge (first deputy prime minister), Prince Sultan is the defence minister, Prince Nayef is the interior minister, and Prince Saud al-Faisal is the foreign minister.

The L.A. Times reports that municipal elections may be held in the kingdom next year ... provincial and national elections would come later.

But democracy might cause some problems too (from the L.A. Times article):

Despite the recent announcement that the Ministry of Religion had fired more than 300 conservative clerics accused of preaching extremism and suspended an additional 1,000 for "re-education," some still doubt that the Saudis will really try to challenge the religious establishment. Others fear that an attempt to open Saudi politics may wind up giving religious extremists in the kingdom more access to power, because they tend to be among the best organized Saudi group.

And then, there's this. A prominant Saudi columnist, Hussein Shobokshi, was dropped by the two Saudi papers which carry his columns (Arab News & Okaz). It could have something to do with the last column he wrote where he fantasised about a Saudi Arabia where his daughter could drive and he could vote. Or it could be because he was quoted in an AP article saying that Prince Abdullah had told him he liked the article. (Shobokshi later said he never said anything of the sort to AP).