Magazine article The Middle East

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Magazine article The Middle East

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WHEN KING ABDULLAH BIN ABDUL AZIZ OF Saudi Arabia took the enlightened decision to admit women to the Shura Council, his pronouncement did not go unchallenged. Some strongly oppose the king's move and even compiled a nine point petition protesting against it. Nevertheless, the King's wishes became law in late January when 30 women, including university graduates, human rights activists and two princesses, were admitted to the Shura, also known as the Saudi Consultative Council, joining 130 male colleagues.

As one newspaper columnist noted, if there had been public elections, perhaps not a single Saudi woman would have won. No matter, thanks to a decision that came right from the very top, the Kingdom's Shura Council now boasts a higher percentage of women than that of the American Congress (20% to 18% respectively.)

The reformist monarch has cautiously tried to advance the role of women in Saudi society; in 2011, he granted women the right to vote and to run as candidates in the next local election, set for 2015, saying "we refuse to marginalise women's role in Saudi society." His latest decree marked a further breakthrough in the kingdom.

Meanwhile, in a worrying move in the opposite direction, the notorious Egyptian TV-preacher, Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah, also known as "Abu Islam," stated on his personal television station that Egyptian women who protest against President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood "want to be raped. …

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