Saudi Arabia is a fascinating country. It is, I think, the only country in the world that’s named after a family (the House of Saud), and it’s arguably the richest country in the world, per capita, due to its massive oil deposits. Prior to the discovery of oil in the early 1930s, the area was a lawless region of competing tribes and factions, and it wasn’t until the oil was discovered that a coherent government began to take shape in order to effectively exploit that oil. Since the Cold War, Saudi Arabia has been one of the most unlikely stalwart allies of the United States, and despite deepening differences between the two countries, that condition should persist for some time to come.
One of those differences between the two countries lies in how society views women. In the US, women, from winning the right to vote over 90 years ago, have made massive strides in achieving parity with men in many areas economic, political and cultural. Women, for all intents and purposes, have also managed to be treated equally before the law. In sum, the US has made gender equity a reality in a remarkably short period of time, considering the scope of the changes. Saudi Arabia has not. Women are distinctly subservient to men in nearly all areas of life in the kingdom. From personal property, to the law, to education and the simple act of driving, women are subjected to a plethora of restrictions and regulations, both civil and religious that put women in a clearly junior status to men in the country.
Much of the media focus has centered on womens’ ability to drive. Currently, Saudi women are not permitted this privilege. And in this article, Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz, daughter of the second king, is of a more progressive bent, but she doesn’t think that women should be focusing on the issue of driving. I wouldn’t say that she’s an apologist for the regime, rather, she’s a radical, and not of the conservative Muslim variety. She instead proposes a broad-based platform of reforms to enhance the status of women in her country, and the changes she supports are deep and far-reaching. Her plan effectively calls for a complete overhaul in the way that women are treated, viewed and engaged. So while she may not think the priority should be driving, she’s anything but a conservative. Take a look at the article, it’s a fascinating read as to how modern Saudi women live today, and what changes may be coming to one of our closest allies.