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Saudi King in ‘co-ed’ picture shock! 8, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah appears in a picture with women at a conference. As small as this picture or gesture may seem, this is really quite a progressive statement. Not only does it explicitly go against the Saudi rhetoric of the strict separation of men and women, but the majority of the women are not wearing Niqabs and I can even – sacre bleu! – see a few strands of hair.

This is but the latest example of the elderly King’s clear statements on reform in Saudi Arabia. Not only did he inaugurate the Kingdom’s first co-ed educational institution but he decreed that it be free from the depredations of the religious police. Therefore, on campus, women can drive, do not need to wear headscarves and can mingle freely with the opposite sex. When challenged by a senior cleric on this, he responded immediately by sacking him. Another bold move.

The questions that is now on everybodys’ lips is what till happen after Abdullah is no longer King. Although Prince Sultan the Crown Prince practically returned from the dead, it is unlikely that he would take over for his health is surely still too fragile. Instead, Prince Naif, an arch conservative, was made deputy Crown Prince. He is generally accepted to be the logical successor. Whether he would seek to roll back some of the reforms is the million dollar question.

One last quick note: people often innately assume that ‘it must’ be a case of the Saudi rulers holding back their people who ‘automatically’ want more progressive laws because – well – that’s ‘just’ what people want. Not in Saudi Arabia. Overall, I’d be tempted to say that in fact it is the people who are more conservative than the government and it is the average Saudi who is resistant to change. How the younger generations will change this balance is another interesting question.

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