Voices from the Arab press: Allowing Saudi women to drive — what it means

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Qingdao, China, on June 9 (photo credit: REUTERS)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Qingdao, China, on June 9
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Allowing Saudi women to drive — what it means
-Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 30
Saudi women lift weights and bust social norms, April 24, 2018 (Reuters)
My colleagues around the world have asked me why the decision to permit Saudi women to drive is such a monumental development in our country’s history. The answer is very simple: other than the mere freedom that comes with driving, the lifting of the female driving ban achieves three main things for Saudi Arabia.
First, it challenges the growing influence of religious groups and Islamist hard-liners in our country. For years, religious fundamentalists have told us that women must stay home and remain subservient to their husbands. Women were accordingly forbidden from integrating into society. With the lifting of the ban, we are finally sending a clear message to Saudi women that they are equal to men. We’ve also marked a clear line in the sand in regard to succumbing to the demands of religious zealots, reminding them that we will not let them dictate the laws of our country.
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Second, we are providing women with the agency to make their own decisions and choices. Women who want to stay home may choose to do so. Those, however, who wish to leave their homes can now exercise their individual liberties without being constrained by anyone or anything. Women are no longer confined to a restricted space – whether physical or ideological – that limits their possibilities in life.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, allowing females to drive enables them to become contributing members of the Saudi economy. Until today, women could not truly pursue all educational and employment opportunities that were available to men. They depended on others to drive them and give them permission to go about their daily routines.
Today, all of this comes to end. We’ve already seen Saudi women, especially of the younger generations, lead successful business and social enterprises. We are seeing women in academia and politics. The lifting of the driving ban is therefore only natural. Indeed, it is the stamp of approval given to every young girl in the kingdom, reminding her that she is worthy of and able to do whatever she dreams of doing in life.
– Hasan Mustafa
Even our students are now bribing and cheating!
Al-Mada, Iraq, June 30
I’ve already written and commented at length about the problem of corruption in Iraq. Just when I thought I’d seen it all, a new incident is exposed – leaving me stunned about the grave situation we’ve reached in our country.
Last week we learned that middle-school graduate examinations in Islamic studies have been leaked to students ahead of the test, forcing the government to cancel the exam across the country. The person behind the leak is assumed to be none other than a Muslim clerk working for the Education Ministry in Falluja. What irony! A clerk undermining the importance of teaching students the beauty of Islam.
And yet, corruption is not unique to religious figures. It is common across all realms of life in Iraq, from big to small organizations. We’ve all read of the forging of ballots in the recent parliamentary elections, which led to the manipulation of election outcomes. We’ve all learned that military commanders fake their units’ rosters to increase the salaries paid to them by the government. We are all aware of what it takes to speed things up in government offices, and how far a bribe can get us.
Indeed, corruption has become so ubiquitous in our society that it is now an integral part of our lives. It is almost as if public figures are expected – even encouraged at times – to cheat and lie. They are evaluated by the public not on the basis of their platforms, but rather on their ability to come up with new corrupt schemes to enhance their power. This is a very big problem. Iraq is already a poor country suffering from many social ailments. We cannot afford to waste our limited public funds on bribes and extortions.
We are a nation rich in natural resources and human capital, yet we fail to achieve even our most basic goals because of our chronic corruption disease. This corruption has now reached a shocking level, plaguing even our education system. Instead of educating for honesty and morality, we are now teaching our children the merits of fraud and deception.
– Hazen al-Ami
Merkel’s refugee problem
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, June 30
Lebanese President Michel Aoun and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Beirut last week to discuss their two countries’ respective refugee problems. Aoun reportedly asked Merkel to help his country repatriate its large refugee population – numbering over 1.8 million individuals – back to Syria.
But this is no easy feat. Merkel emphasized that it would be impossible to send Syrian individuals back to their country until President Bashar Assad agrees to receive them. This is especially so since most Syrian refugees identify as Sunni, a religious group that Assad, an Alawite, would rather leave out of the country. Thus, a direct dialogue with the Assad regime would be necessary to formally do so.
On the sideline of the visit, Merkel also tried to secure guarantees from Aoun stating that Lebanon, like Turkey, will not allow its migrant population to make its way toward Europe. This issue already gained widespread public attention last week, when several boats carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean Sea, drowning them.
Back home, Merkel has been facing harsh criticism for her decision to allow approximately one million refugees, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, to settle in Germany. This open-door policy stood in stark contrast to other EU states, which completely shut off their borders to migrants, and inspired rage against Merkel.
In an effort to salvage her reputation and placate her political rivals, Merkel first traveled to Turkey and now to Lebanon, with a demand to curb the influx of migrants into her country. In Europe, she already convinced several EU leaders to take back asylum seekers who have been resettled in Germany. It seems as if, at least for now, Merkel has been saved. But this is only a temporary fix, and only time will tell whether her 14-year-long tenure will soon come to an end.
 – Saleem Nassar
A much-anticipated Russian-Iranian breakup
Al-Okaz, Saudi Arabia, June 29
When the Russian-Iranian romance emerged a few years ago, it was clear that this relationship was doomed to fail. Each of the sides entered the marriage with different interests in mind: Iran with a fundamentalist expansionist agenda, and Russia with an interest of enhancing its foothold in the region. One was religious while the other was political.
The relationship lasted so long as the two sides’ interests overlapped. However, US President Donald Trump – despite being ridiculed and derided by world leaders – managed to defy this love affair. In his meeting with President Vladimir Putin scheduled to take place in just a few weeks, Trump is expected to hit the last nail in the coffin of Russian-Iranian relations. According to several sources in the Kremlin, Putin decided to adopt Trump’s stance and publicly call for the withdrawal of all Iranian forces from Syria. Moscow will also oversee the transition of authority to Bashar Assad.
If proven true, this would be an incredible achievement for all moderate forces in the Middle East, as well as for Trump’s foreign policy. Indeed, Iranian leaders have already expressed their concern over this move, changing their rhetoric from one of full support of Russia to one of its complete dismissal.
One of them, a member of parliament by the name of Behrouz Bonyadi, already unleashed harsh attacks on Putin and Assad, claiming that “Russia will never be a trustworthy friend of Iran.” This kind of remark is unprecedented, and hearing it from the mouth of an Iranian lawmaker would have been virtually unheard of just a few weeks ago. But the winds of change are blowing in the Middle East, and the wheel is continuously turning. The fake marriage we were all forced to witness is finally crumbling, ending in a nasty breakup that we all knew would come one day.
– Mashri al-Zayidi