Saudi takes a tentative step towards democracy
In my view, it has always been one of the US' greatest hypocrisies that their leadership incessantly castigates Middle Eastern countries for their lack of democracy, yet counts Saudi Arabia as one of its favourite allies. No prizes for guessing why, but the fact remains that Saudi Arabia holds one of the most totalitarian regimes in region. This has proved to be one of the main points inciting radical Muslim groups over the last decade, with Bin Laden including the destruction of the Saud regime as one of his objectives.
Against this backdrop, Saudi Arabia has announced that, for the first time in 41 years, it will allow local elections which will fill half the seats on 178 municipal councils.
According to the Washington Post, "the ruling family's goal, political analysts and diplomats here say, is to determine whether a more open government might help defuse a rising armed threat by Muslim militants in the kingdom or merely inspire reform advocates to push harder against the princes' long hold on power."
This would have been done under intense pressure from the Bush Administration who are patently searching for examples of success in the Middle East to counterweight the damage done by Iraq in voter's minds. Whatever the reasoning, whether it be from a Bush election strategy or fear of extremists, a little democracy in a country where women still do not have the right to drive is definitely a good thing.