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Saudi reforms: one step forward, many back 25, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, Saudi Arabia.
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In recent weeks, there have been promising signs emanating from Riyadh suggesting that the countries’ draconian policies towards women were being relaxed. Firstly, as reported here, there was the small announcement that women may stay alone in hotels in the Kingdom, so long as they have some kind of photo ID which will then be registered with the local police. Whilst this may not seem like much of a victory for women’s rights, it is certainly a start. Furthermore, later on that week there was the unconfirmed and then apparently conformed story that Saudi Arabia will let women drive ‘by the end of the year’. Needless to say, this would be a large step forward for women’s rights in the country.

However, it has just been revealed by NPR news that that there was a meeting last autumn between Saudi and Qatari representatives where Saudi officials demanded that AL-Jazeera be ‘brought to heel’.

Since Al Jazeera’s inception in 2001, it has been a breath of critical and relatively even-handed fresh air in a region traditionally full of news outlets bought and paid for by parties and governments. Al Jazeera, therefore, was a shock to governments around the region and especially Riyadh, where they were seen to be particularly critical.

However, Mustafah Alani, a UAE based analyst comments that since the growth of Iran as a potential regional problem, the Sunni countries across the Gulf have, to a greater or lesser degree, banded together to counter Iran. One casualty of this has been the Qatari based and funded Al Jazeera. Alani maintains that the Qatari government, at the behest of Saudi Arabia, has lent on Al Jazeera to tone down its criticisms of the Kingdom.

Peter Kenyan of NPR also refers to the imprisonment of one of Saudi’s most famous bloggers, Fouad al Farhan, as another example of a crackdown on free speech and the media. In an interview with Professor Bin Hashim, he describes his arrest as a ‘hot stove policy’ which is to say that by arresting one blogger, the authorities hope that this will act as a warning to others not to cross ‘the line’.

 

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