Women's rights have gained ground as a main focus for reform in Saudi Arabia, but advocates face a resistant religious establishment.
Recent appointments by Saudi King Abdullah are essential to implementing the 2007 judicial reforms, which are beginning to disentangle the judiciary from the executive branch.
Senior Saudi officials have announced recently that they will soon begin trying terrorism suspects held in connection with a series of major attacks that began in 2003. The use of the court system to battle extremism was not possible while the government perceived al-Qaeda as an existential threat; clearly it has now been downgraded to an internal security threat.
The municipal elections currently underway in Saudi Arabia are the kingdom's first since 1963, when the last municipal races were held in the Western province.
Saudi Arabia's burgeoning reform movement presented its latest petition to King Fahad bin Abdul-Aziz, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, and the Minister of Defense Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz on September 24. Titled "In Defense of the Nation," the document was signed by 306 Saudi men and women [click here to read an English translation of the petition].
Are economic and political reforms an effective way to combat corruption, or do changes such as privatizing state industries actually increase opportunities for corruption? There is not a single answer to the question, but a closer look at the types of corruption
In the Saudi political annals, 2003 was the year of reform par excellence. 2003 witnessed not only a growth of literature on reform unprecedented in size and boldness, but also the government's announcement of several reforms, the most significant of which is the holding of municipal elections. Though no date has been set, such elections would be the first in the Kingdom since the early 1960s.
In the 1930s, when Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, asked the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, for permission to open a branch of his movement in the Kingdom, the King rejected the request as unnecessary. "The entire Kingdom is a branch for the Brotherhood and all Saudis are Muslim brothers," he replied.
Saudis are still awaiting the inauguration of their partially-elected municipal councils, despite the fact that the last round of elections was held eight months ago. The delay has dampened popular enthusiasm for the councils and raised questions about the Saudi government's seriousness about political reform.
A survey of women's political status in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states shows that in some countries women have recently made considerable progress toward formal equality of political rights, but in others they have not. The governing elite in the GCC countries generally supports women's political rights, but strong social sentiment against women's participation in politics persists.
Many Arab regimes share a questionable commitment to the principles of human rights, but the Saudi ruling establishment’s commitment is even weaker than that of others in the region. To date, the Saudi government's reform initiatives have had a negligible impact on improving respect for human rights in the Kingdom.
The Saudi Shi'i news service al-Rasid released its second annual human rights report in late April, a survey of discriminatory practices against the Kingdom's Shi'i minority. Noting a palpable stall in government reform efforts, the report cited the influence of Salafi hardliners in the clerical bureaucracy who dissuaded the ruling family from codifying further concessions to Shi'i identity.
The local councils of Saudi Arabia elected in spring 2005, still in their formative stages, have yet to make their mark on municipal decision making. They are caught between the promises that they made to voters during last year's elections and the reality of dealing with local governments known for deeply ingrained bureaucracy.
In a lavish ceremony in November in the remote port town of Thuwal, a three-hour drive from Mecca, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia laid the cornerstone for a new Western-style science and technology university.
In the Arab world, what UN literature calls national human rights institutions (NHRIs) have emerged in recent years. A few of them—for example in Morocco and Palestine—have attained a degree of autonomy in confronting governments.