International Information Programs
February 16, 2005

February 16, 2005





**  Election supporters note a "tuning point" that may signal "broader reform."

**  For Saudi papers, elections "confirm" that "Saudi Society has matured."

**  Critics outside the Kingdom say municipal elections are "nothing but a formality."

**  Many fear unfair elections could usher in fundamentalists. 




A 'bridgehead' for democracy--  A majority of commentators termed the vote an "historic event" and an "initial step towards broader reform."  The conservative Australian added that this "democratic wind" will be "very hard to stop."  A plethora of Saudi outlets trumpeted the election as "the first step towards full national participation in the decision making process" while more cautious Arab papers suggested that such "minute steps in institutionalizing democracy may prove vital."  Dismissing the claim that democracy is "simpler in non-Arab cultures," Western periodicals offered that "countries that have never known democracy can get there gradually," and that at the very least "elections have created room for debates."


Elections prove Saudi society 'worthy' of democratic responsibilities--  Saudi outlets signaled a positive future for the democratic process by declaring the elections "mean that our nation has reached the desired level of self-awareness and the ability to bear responsibility" and that "he who can achieve such as success is worthy of becoming an active partner in building the future."  Adding to the rhetoric, conservative Al-Madina proposed that "the launch of the municipal elections process" has "rejuvenated a culture of elections in Saudi society."


Low turn-out, female voter ban suggest 'business as usual'--  With the female half of the potential electorate missing, a mere third of the eligible voters registered, and with only half of the seats being voted on, many papers found it "easy to dismiss the election as shallow."  Outlets stated the election "hardly compares to the polls in Iraq and Afghanistan," while Britain's independent weekly Economist termed the election "a sort of democracy, with king-sized training wheels."  London-based Arab nationalist Al-Quds al-Arabi jabbed at the Saudi royals by asking, "what hopes can these elections lead to under a government that whips everyone who merely thinks of demonstrating?"


Victory for the 'entrenched religious establishment'--  Kyrgyzstan's official Rossiyskaya Gazeta contended that the purposefully lackluster election, "deprived of the habitual Western features," resulted from Saudi fear that "democracy Western style would pave the way to power for extremists."  Prior to E-Day, Italy's center-right Il Giornale warned the "stakes involved are enormous," adding that "this election should not be held because the fundamentalists may win it." As for the vote results, Saudi Arabia's conservative Al-Nadwa asserted that Western media claims that victors came "from the religious sector...does not match reality" and Saudi society lacks "these rival religious currents that Western media is imagining."  Other Saudi papers considered the "conservative sweep" a "natural outcome of the democratic process."


Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888,


EDITOR:  Patricio Asfura-Heim


EDITOR'S NOTE:   Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  Some commentary is taken directly form the Internet.   This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 28 reports from 14 countries over February 10-16, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.




BRITAIN:  "Shifting Sands"


The independent weekly Economist asserted (2/12):  "Change is certainly in the air in Riyadh, a city of walls and veils.  To many Saudis, it is change for the better, after a long drought.  Take this week's elections.  Like many Saudi reforms, it is easy to dismiss them as shallow.  They are for only half the seats on town councils. Half the potential electorate, women, are not invited.  Only a third of eligible men have registered to vote in the capital. So it is a sort of democracy, with king-sized training wheels."


ITALY:  "Fears And Hopes In The First Election In Saudi Arabia"


Massimo Introvigne of center-right Il Giornale said (2/11):  "With the commencement of voting operations in Riyadh and in its province, something is moving in the sphere of democracy in a country where no innovation seemed possible until only a few years ago, namely Saudi Arabia.   People say that the encounter between Islam and democracy is far simpler in non-Arab cultures such as Turkey or Indonesia than it is among the heirs of an Arab culture to whom the democratic method is genetically extraneous.   There is a certain amount of truth in this, but it is by no means an unchangeable scenario....  The stakes involved are enormous....  These people are repeating today that this election should not be held because the fundamentalists may win it.   In actual fact, 10 years' worth of elections in the Arab world have shown us that when political Islam is given a voice in a free election, the conservative and nonviolent tendency within it prevails over the fundamentalist tendency that is close to terrorism.  This can happen also in Saudi Arabia, where apart from anything else we should not be in a hurry:  Countries that have never known democracy can get there gradually."


GERMANY:  "Steam In The Kettle"


Markus Ziener noted in an editorial in business daily Handelsblatt (2/11):  "The local elections that are now taking place in Saudi Arabia are marking a turning point for the country....   And this fact alone is of great significance for the entire Arab world....  The elections in the country are the first bridgehead for further steps in the direction of democratization.  This is a point that could lead to further progress, even if the rights of the elected people's representatives are only written on paper.  Saudi Arabia is not the last country that is lagging behind a development that would be difficult to stop, since a trend for elections exists in the whole region....  With these elections, political pressure on other Arab countries will increase even more.  Egypt will play a decisive role, since they will vote this year on Hosni Mubarak's future…even though he is not willing to accept the wish of many people to have a real choice in the political process.  On the contrary, the Egyptian president shows a great inclination to have his son follow him as president.  But such a rule could cause the people's anger this time....  The models in Palestine, Iraq, and not the first indications in Saudi Arabia are putting enormous pressure on the kettle in the Arab world.  This can only be positive, for autocratic systems have been unable to resolve the mountain of problems under which the region is groaning.  They are models from yesterday.”


"First Exercise"


Andrea Nüsse said in left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (2/11):  "For western eyes, these elections are disappointing, since women are excluded from them....  For the extremely conservative Wahabite Kingdom, the election act alone, however, is absolutely new, and thus means progress, even though the outcome does not result in a participation in power.  In a country that does not enjoy a culture of discussion, the elections have created room for debates....  If one considers the election a first democratic exercise and a possibility for a limited domestic policy debate, it is, measured against the situation in Saudi Arabia, a positive development.  But it will be decisive whether the regime will leave it that way or whether it allows greater freedom of opinion and a less strict right to assemble....  Saudi Arabia has one of the best-educated elites in the region and a relatively well developed private economy.  This is a good precondition for a true political participation of its citizens.  But thus far, the regime does not want anything to do with it."


TURKEY:  "An Electoral Experience In Saudi Arabia"


Ahmet Varol commented in Islamist Vakit (2/13):  "Alarmed by the daunting possibility of a U.S. intervention to bring democracy, the Saudi rulers are trying to develop their own model of democracy as a result of a series of local elections allowing voters to elect half of the members of municipal councils....  The most important outcome of the election process was the emergence of an opposition in the country without fear of persecution."  


"Elections and Change in the Middle East”


Sami Kohen wrote in mass-appeal Milliyet (2/11): “The Saudi Arabian local elections received international attention because they signified symbolic progress.  Even though the elections were local and held on a limited basis, the event itself showed that the royal rulers have decided to share their authority partially for the first time in country’s history....  The number of advocates of human rights and freedom continues to grow in Saudi Arabia.  The current system is an obstacle to their speaking out.  Their attempts sometimes end in jail sentences and other punishment under the religious rules.  Yet the royal family could not avoid hearing the popular voice for a change....  It is also a fact that foreign influence, particularly America’s pressure and repeated calls for change, played a role in the new steps taken by the Saudi family.  Even in their current form, the Saudi elections signify important progress in the Middle East.  None of the countries there are perfect or capable of meeting democratic standards, although elections in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan are all the steps in the right direction.”




SAUDI ARABIA:  "Women And Elections"


Raid Qusti observed in the English-language pro-government Arab News (2/16):  "Covering the recent municipal elections in the Kingdom was a thrilling experience....  The whole process was unprecedented in our nation’s history. Along with many others, I hope the elections marked the beginning of public participation in decision-making....  The whole process has begun a new era in Saudi Arabia that will pave the way for larger elections: The entire municipal council and the Shoura Consultative Council as well....  Even though many women readers of Arab News criticized me in the past for supporting the government’s reasons for not including women in this round, I still believe them to be practical....  Having seen how candidates in Riyadh plastered their photos on street advertisements and in local newspapers, how would a woman candidate have run her campaign? We must bear in mind that many Saudis still believe that a woman’s picture should only be viewed by close relatives and certainly not by unrelated members of the public....  And what about the municipality itself? How would male and female colleagues within the municipality interact since they would have to be in separate buildings or departments; would all contact be over the phone?  Clearly that would be the only possibility since mixing the sexes is considered sinful....  As long as traditions and customs that are not universal in the 21st century prevail in the Kingdom and as long as we continue to teach in our universities that 'Listening to a woman’s voice is sinful,' women who honestly believe they have a role in our society’s development will be either labeled 'brainwashed by the West' or 'sinners.'"


"A Certificate Of Success"


Moderate Okaz editorialized (2/15):  "The first phase in the Municipal Election exercise was a successful experience.  It is expected that future phases will be more successful.  The hope is for the whole exercise to be a success.  Triumph in this challenge means that our nation has reached the desired level of self-awareness and the ability to bear responsibility.


"Unacceptable Classifications"


Conservative Al-Nadwa offered (2/14):  "Western media claimed that the victors in the Saudi municipal election were those from the religious sector.  This conclusion does not match reality.  Saudi voters cast their ballots without any pressure from any religious institution or organization.  People voted for whom they believed would best serve their municipal needs.  Saudi society has never had these rival religious currents that western media is imagining. This country is the country of Islam, and the minaret of Islam to the world. The classification of moderate Islam and extreme Islam is unacceptable."


"What Polls Throw Up"


The English-language pro-government Saudi Gazette asserted (2/14):  "The hullabaloo about the Riyadh municipality elections that produced a conservative sweep in the initial list of winners announced by the Election Commission is but a natural outcome of the democratic process.  The losers some 50 candidates contend that the seven winners campaigned as a slate endorsed by religious scholars in open violation of the Election Charter.  Now it is for the Grievances Committee to examine the evidence if the charges are filed rule accordingly, and ascertain that the elections are deemed free and fair.  What is perhaps most pertinent in the controversy is the issue of so-called Islamist support to the winning candidates.  It is puzzling why this should ever be deemed an election violation.   After all, Saudi Arabia does have the Holy Qur an and the Sunnah as its Constitution and every voter is a Muslim.  The conservative victory is, however, no surprise. This has been the post-9/11 election trend in Muslim societies elsewhere in Turkey, Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc.   But in Riyadh, a more plausible reason for the conservative win can be deduced from voter registration only 149,000 out of some half a million eligible voters participated.  The indifferent and the disenchanted are generally the liberals many who saw little in the election to only half the municipal council seats while the conservatives are those who have long had a commanding presence in the Riyadh region and thereby good reason to want to register as voters and maintain the status quo.  The results of free and fair elections are no doubt often contentious.  But ultimately it is always the case in a fair and transparent democratic exercise that an electorate gets the leadership it deserves.  The Riyadh electorate is no exception."


"Jeddah Poll Blues"


Shroog Talal Radain contended in the English-language pro-government Saudi Gazette (2/14):  "Several Saudis here are not keen about the municipal elections after what they perceive is an election failure in Riyadh.  Though voter registration is scheduled to start Tuesday in the Red Sea port city, many Saudi residents do not see what the elections will achieve to change their lives.... The perceived failure of elections in Riyadh, whose results are being challenged by the losing candidates, has cast its shadow on the polls in Jeddah.  Two days ahead of voter registration here, many Saudi residents have not shown keen interest or excitement in the political exercise.....  The elections for municipal council seats are the first-ever to be held in the Kingdom. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs announced the elections at a time when the authorities felt that the public should be allowed to take part in decision-making.  Some Saudi residents interviewed by The Saudi Gazette feel that the balloting is only a waste of time, a vehicle for some rich people to gain publicity." 


"A Successful And Hopeful Start"


Moderate Al-Jazirah editorialized (2/13):  "The first experience of the municipal elections will remain forever in the hearts of the Saudis...  The development of the society starts through district and neighborhood councils....  Therefore, municipal and council elections are the beginning towards political reforms.  Those who were eager to serve their society will be more capable of serving their country and citizens.  The reforms will continue and take different shapes and will include more important department institutions that could affect the future of the county."   


"A Historic Day"


Conservative Al-Madina editorialized (2/12):  "We should not consider the low number of participants in the Municipal Election as a failure of the exercise.  Election is a new experience in our society, and the government believes that success will be achieved gradually. Therefore, we can honestly say that the launch of the Municipal Election process in Riyadh has rejuvenated a culture of elections in Saudi society.  We are hopeful that the number of electors will increase.  This election is the first step on the Kingdom’s road towards development and reforms."


"Riyadh: 'Speeding Up Slowly'"


Ahmad al-Rib'i concluded in London-based pan-Arab Al-Sharq al-Awsat (2/12):  "What took place in Riyadh was an electoral 'tryout.'  Yet, it was successful by all standards....  Essentially, the Riyadh municipal elections are not of great significance, but a step on the right track....  The exclusion of women resulted in the exclusion of half the number of potential voters....  The important thing is for these elections to change and wipe out many of the premature notions that lead to the belief that people in Saudi Arabia are not mature enough or ready for such elections....  Nations have learned from their previous experiences, successes and failures that there is no alternative for social peace. They also have learned that resorting to violence and excluding people from the political life because of their gender, color or race contradict with the principles of democracy and modern society.  We do not need to go through all the stages that other nations went through before. The world has changed and we are required to 'speed up slowly.'  We cannot create a democratic revolution overnight. We cannot move in slow motion, yet, believe that we are engaged in public participation. We are required to be self-confident, have confidence in others, and present the humane and civilized option as an alternative to the mentality of killing, underestimation of people and seizure of the opinion of others."


"Citizens’ Active Participation"


Moderate Okaz editorialized (2/12):  "No matter what the results of the Municipal Election in Riyadh were, the only thing that matters is that it was a successful exercise.  It was a confirmation that the Saudi society has matured, and people knew whom they chose, and why they made that choice...The success in the Municipal Election confirmed that the Saudi citizen is ready for the future.  He who can achieve such a success is worthy of becoming an active partner in building the future.  This was one of the objectives of the government out of that experience, which is scheduled to include all public institutions.  Ultimately we will become a civilized modern society."


"Transparent Elections"


Moderate Al-Yaum declared (2/12):  "The municipal elections held in Riyadh represented an important and major step toward modernization and reform in the kingdom.  The elections presented a vision of the nature of Saudi society that rushed with great enthusiasm to contribute with its vote to participation in making decisions....  The first task has achieved its purpose with the announcement of the vote count....  This transparency earned the admiration of the observers and is a step worthy of attention and praise....  Those who followed through the media the live relay of the voting have growing hopes that this civilized way of expressing the people's wishes will become a series of future steps that the Saudi citizen must prepare himself for and embark on them, especially as the Saudi leadership played a major role in paving the way before the Saudi people to join the course of development, reform, and modernization and urged them to embody the values of the age and be open to the future.   The future is what the Saudi citizen creates by participating in making the decision."


 "Saudi Municipal Elections"


Arab nationalist London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi commented (2/11):  "Saudi males headed to ballot boxes to vote in the local elections...amid extensive media coverage, through which the Saudi government wanted to give the outside world the impression that it is moving forward on the road to reform....  This step would undoubtedly be an important one had it been the beginning of a comprehensive reform process.  But Saudi citizens do not believe so and proof of that is the fact that only 150,000 Saudi males out the 4 million people living in the Saudi capital registered their names in the Riyadh voter lists.  And these doubts are justifiable.  The aim of these elections is to choose half the members of municipal councils, while the government will take charge of assigning the other half. This is in addition to the fact that women were banned from taking part in the elections, both as voters and as candidates....  The elections in themselves are not proof of reform.   Most dictatorial Arab states hold several elections to elect members of parliaments....  But such elections are nothing but a formality and such parliaments include members who are loyal to the regime and who cheer for its policies.  True reform requires a number of procedures including the permitting of freedom of speech, the election of a free parliament that has broad monitoring and legislative authorities, a just and independent judiciary, a constitutional court, and a complete separation of the executive, judicial and legislative authorities....  What hopes can these elections lead to under a government that whips everyone who merely thinks about demonstrating, and prevents journalists from writing and sometimes arrests them for making legitimate critical remarks involving officials?  It would be a big mistake for the Saudi government to believe that these partial elections will give its citizens, in the first place, then the world public, the impression that the change toward reform has begun."


"The Test"


Moderate Okaz editorialized (2/10):  "The municipal election and the electors’ race to the polls today is an important national and political event.  It is the first step towards full national participation in the decision-making process in this country... this success would not have been possible if citizens were not aware of their responsibilities and obligations towards their country.  Each elector has the right to vote for the representative that best serves his needs without any favoritism or tribal alliances.  The election in Riyadh today is a test of the citizen’s level of political awareness.  The success in this phase will pave the path for future successes in the decision-making process."


"Municipal Elections:  An Step Towards Reform"


Moderate Al-Jazira editorialized (2/10):  "Today marks the actual beginning of reform in Saudi Arabia...Today citizens will go to the polls to vote and to observe their duties.  Today also marks the beginning of gradual careful reform, which the human experience tells us is the best way to achieve the desired reform."


SYRIA:  "Two Very Significant Victories"


Samir al-Shibani wrote in government-owned Tishreen (2/14):  "Saudi Arabia scored two very significant victories last week: the big success of the international conference on terrorism in Riyadh and the holding of the first round of municipal elections....  Through this first election in the history of the Kingdom, the Saudi royals removed the risk of reforms imposed from abroad and launched a reform process that suits them and their identity, culture, and heritage....  We praise Saudi policies and note Riyadh's success in confronting the various vicious campaigns that target its security, stability, and comprehensive development process, and that also target its support for the just Arab and Muslim causes."


UAE:  "Learning To  Vote, Step By Step"


The English-language expatriate-oriented Gulf News opined (2/14):  "To attack last week's municipal elections in Saudi Arabia without qualification is unjustified. Elections were held in the country for the first time and hence can only be regarded as being a landmark.  Furthermore, the exercise is a first step towards establishing an electoral system that will in the future include a larger and more encompassing voter base.  No doubt, the shortcomings are in more than one area.  For one thing, in the first of the three-part polls, held in Riyadh, only men were allowed to vote.  Second, the polls had a limited turnout with few more than 140,000 of the 470,000 eligible voters casting their votes.  Armed with these facts, critics have described the elections as being a cosmetic and artificial step towards democracy.  Let us be fair, though, when examining the elections.  Minute steps in institutionalising democracy may prove vital."


YEMEN:  "Is The KSA Serious Or Not?  Toying With Democracy"


Mai Yamani of the English-language pro-government Yemen Times asserted (2/13):  "Democracy is supposedly on the march in the Middle East.  But Arab dictators are afraid of true they conjure up potions that protect the status quo by selecting bits of Western political models and adding some religious interpretation to ensure a patina of Islamic legitimacy.  Saudi Arabia fits this description to a tee.  Its rulers, some of the most autocratic in the world say that democracy is incompatible with Islam.  So they prefer the term 'participatory government'....  What remains debatable and contentious is the right of citizens to choose their leaders.  Yet pressure to democratize is mounting, in part due to the smaller Gulf States, which compete with each other in democratic reforms....  So, threatened as the regional hegemon, Saudi Arabia has joined the reform race by announcing partial municipal elections to consultative bodies in which the royal family already appoints half the members....  The government describes this as a 'new political era'.  But women remain excluded from the vote, despite attempts by several to participate in areas that the Wahhabi religious authorities deem acceptable to the 'nature of women.'   Moreover, in accordance with Saudi tradition, the ruling family appoints a Prince as chairman of the General Committee overseeing the elections, a sign not of wider political participation, but of business as usual.  Despite efforts led by Crown Prince Abdullah to urge participation, voter registration is low, which suits the government well, as high turnout could lead to the development of an electoral culture....  If Saudi Arabia’s rulers were serious about “participatory government,” they would encourage liberals, moderates, and pragmatists....  Despite cynicism, apathy, frustration, despair, and violence, some Saudis still hope for the emergence of a prince on a white horse who will place the kingdom onto the path of reform.  But there is no such prince; there are only the old ones, clinging to power without legitimacy and toying grotesquely with their people’s aspirations. 




AUSTRALIA :  "One Small Step Towards Democracy"


An editorial in the national conservative Australian read (2/11):  “A democratic wind of change is blowing through the Middle East. And the rulers of Saudi Arabia do not like the breeze one bit....  These are enormously important events.  Empowering ordinary people is the best hope of ending the tyranny of religious zealots and secular dictators that bedevils the Middle East.  Which is why the democratic process makes Saudi Arabia's royal family nervous....  For the first time in 40 years there are elections in the kingdom.  But only of a sort.  When Saudi men,  women are barred from voting,  went to the polls yesterday in the first round of elections that will run across the country until April, they elected just half the members of municipal councils…. By Western standards, this is not much of an election.  And it hardly compares to the polls in Iraq and Afghanistan were men and women decided who would form the national government, not some parish pump authority.  But it is a start.  And once the democratic process gathers momentum it can be very hard to stop.”


INDONESIA:  "Saudi Arabia Begins Reform Steps"


Leading independent Kompas commented (2/10): “An historic event took place...when male voters, particularly in Riyadh, elected their municipal council members.  The elections were regarded as the initial step towards broader reform…. Critics argued the elections in Riyadh constituted an artificial process and lip service, especially because half of the council members are not elected, but appointed by the ruler.  On the other hand, diplomats and those who tolerate the reform process saw the Riyadh municipal elections as a good start to a broader process of reform… Like it or not, the waves of demands for a reform are irresistible.  The demands did not come only from within, but also from external parties, the U.S. in particular, which is one of Saudi Arabia’s closest allies.”      




INDIA:  "Beginning Of Democratic Process In Saudi Arabia"


Hyderabad-based Urdu-language left-of-center Munsif Daily editorialized (2/15):  "Though on a limited scale, the democratic process has started in Saudi Arabia. The entire credit for this goes to the Crown Prince Abdullah...who...has shown extraordinary prudence and sagacity and has provided an opportunity to the Saudi people to express their opinion through civic polls....  Though more than half of the population has not enrolled their names in the electoral rolls, the extraordinary turnout of the registered voters and 650 candidates for just a few seats reflect the overwhelming enthusiasm of people for the democratic process....  Prince Abdullah is responsible for creating a democratic sense among royal family members.  Making any sort of breakthrough in the basic political reforms may be difficult....  Saudi women were barred from voting in these elections....  Complete restoration of the democratic process in Saudi Arabia will take time.  Generally, the transformation is new for the Saudi society....  It will gradually take root....  Any sort of foreign pressure applied could create restiveness among the Saudi society, which should be avoided....  But...the royal Saudi family should cooperate with Prince Abdullah to expedite the democratic process.  Only then the sun of democracy will brightly shine in the Kingdom.   The newly elected members of the municipality will have the responsibility of making the democratic process a success.   These will be the people who along with their followers should instill the feeling in the common Saudi citizens that they could serve them better and are available to them whenever needed."


KYRGYZSTAN:  "Democracy For External Use"


Yevgeniy Shestakov commented in official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta (2/11):  "Unlike Bush, the Saudi authorities right from the outset sought to play down the importance of the municipal elections and deprive them of the habitual Western features, partly succeeding in that....  The authorities made sure that the vote, whatever its outcome, would lead to no political upheavals.  So great was their fear that democracy Western style would pave the way to power for extremists."




CANADA:  "Half A Saudi Vote"


Leading Globe and Mail opined (2/11): "Saudi Arabia dipped a toe into the waters of democratic reform yesterday with its first public vote for any office in four decades.  Any move toward democracy is welcome, but in this case we'll hold the applause.... Only half the members of each municipal council will be elected when the final stage of the nationwide process is completed in April.  The other half will still be appointed.  And no women are allowed to participate.  This is a fundamental flaw that must be corrected if Saudi Arabia's tentative embrace of democratic change is to be taken seriously.  But although it scarcely heralds a new era of openness, freedom and accountability, the municipal balloting does show that the absolute monarchy understands it cannot withstand the winds of political change indefinitely.  With no democratic outlet for an increasingly restive population, the regime will face growing domestic unrest.  Proponents of reform have the examples of Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian presidential vote to back their claims that democratic change is not only overdue in the region but will be welcomed.  The Saudi royals are said to be deeply concerned about Washington's continuing pressure for genuine democratic reforms in the Arab world, including broad public participation in the political process.... That will inevitably require the participation of women, both as voters and candidates.  Until Saudi Arabia starts treating women as full-fledged citizens with the same rights as men and removes archaic restrictions on their freedoms, the reform movement will go nowhere.  This will mean confronting the country's entrenched religious establishment, but such a confrontation is necessary.  It will also require elections to political assemblies with a genuine say in the formulation of policies.  Only then can Saudi Arabia rightly claim that it has heeded the call for democratic reform."


BRAZIL:  "Bush's Private List of Tyrannies"


Center-right O Globo opined (2/13):  “When President Bush said that the US’s mission in the world is to spread the seed of democracy, he ought to have had in mind only the countries in his private list of tyrannies - Saddam’s former Iraq, or the Ayatollah’s Iran and the ‘Dear Leader’s’ North Korea.  Saudi Arabia, the absolutist monarchy and great American ally in the oil region, is not even mentioned by Bush because Saudi Arabia does not see itself as belonging to that group of tyrants.  That may be the reason why women were again forbidden to vote in the recent municipal Saudi Arabian elections.”



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