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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Good news from Saudi Arabia?

Sometimes it helps, when Americans grow so short-sighted as to turn "liberalism" into a bad word, to step back and see how important liberalism really is — as in places where people could really use some:

Even as Saudi Arabia struggles internally with violent extremists and externally with its image as the country that produced most of the attackers of Sept. 11, 2001, the desert kingdom's rulers are moving on multiple fronts to modernize and moderate their nation.

Partial local elections are scheduled, starting in October, for the first time in the kingdom's history.

A series of highly publicized national dialogues is opening public discussion on religious and social topics, ranging from the sensitive to the previously taboo.

Women are increasingly outspoken in asserting their rights to participate in society, both economically and politically.

And the rigid religious hierarchy that a few years ago was sending morality police into the streets to enforce an extremely strict version of Islam is seeing its powers erode.

None of this means irrevocable change has occurred toward moderation or liberalism in Saudi Arabia, the world's most austere Muslim nation. Critics say that the pace is far too slow and that change is coming not because it is seen as good for the average citizen but because since Sept. 11, the United States is demanding it. Others say the changes are occurring because Saudi Arabia itself has become a target of deadly Al Qaeda-linked terror attacks that have killed more than 50 people, most of them Saudis, in recent months.

But there is broad agreement that the momentum for change has not been this strong since 1979, when a radically different set of regional and international circumstances pushed Saudi rulers into what would prove a disastrous adventure with Islamic extremists.

The rest of the story is fascinating. ("Vote nears, Saudis push to modernize," Charles A. Radin, Boston Globe 8.29.04)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 29 August 2004 at 9:37 AM

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