By Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Suad Abu-Dayyeh is the Middle East and North Africa consultant for Equality Now, an advocacy group for the human rights of women and girls around the world. The views expressed are her own.
Three years ago, 12-year-old Fatima was "sold" into marriage to a man more than four times her age. Her father, unemployed and addicted to drugs, sold her into wedlock for about $10,500, money that he then used to buy himself a car. You might be asking yourself how this possible. The answer – because there is no minimum age of marriage law in Saudi Arabia.
But Fatima didn’t give up. With the help of Equality Now, her uncle and our Saudi partners, Fatima beat the odds earlier this year to secure something many thought was impossible given the cultural norms she was pushing up against – a divorce. And with new regulations being considered that would effectively set a minimum age for marriage of 16, Saudi Arabia may finally be taking the steps necessary to ensure that children like Fatima are spared a similar ordeal.
After years of debate, the Ministry of Justice has drafted regulations setting 16 as the minimum age of marriage in the Kingdom. If a girl is under 16, her mother’s approval must be received. If a male guardian applies, a designated court of marriage must also approve the marriage before consent can be given. The girl must also be medically and psychologically fit, and there is a provision that the marriage must not be expose her to danger (although these requirements are not elaborated on). The proposals will now be discussed by the Shura Council (the consultative assembly), the cabinet and various governmental committees. A timetable for their passage has not been announced.
By Madhav Nalapat, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Madhav Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University in India. The views expressed are his own.
Despite the 2008 economic crash and lingering possibility of a Eurozone collapse, the West still clings to its one-size-fits-all mentality – especially when it comes to political systems. Democracy is still almost inevitably defined in terms of the Western model, with periodic elections to choose representatives to a parliament or head of state. Local variants, such as Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga system, are dismissed as not really democratic. But this “universalization” of the Western approach – especially for countries embarking on the path of democratization – is misguided.
I was an early believer in the Middle East democracy project, with the caveat that first there needs to be a comprehensive reform of school curricula. The present fare offered to young minds, especially in Saudi Arabia, is a mishmash of confused ideas cloaked in theology. The result is that the education system fosters minds that are in many cases unable to properly grasp reality, ones that instead too often focus on vague concepts that get superimposed onto the real world. It’s little wonder that conspiracy theories are so prevalent in the region.
By Blake Clayton, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Blake Clayton is a fellow for energy and national security at the Council on Foreign Relations. He recently wrote a major new study on the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve published by the Council, available here.
The chaos in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere has the oil market on edge, and with good reason. But there is another scare among oil traders, much closer to home, one that could be catastrophic for gasoline prices if oil imports are disrupted this fall.
Speculation among experts is rife that the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is no longer able to release oil to the market as quickly as the Department of Energy claims it can. If true – and there is good reason to believe it is – it could destroy the White House’s ability to prevent oil prices from skyrocketing if the commotion in the Middle East worsens. This needs to be fixed – and fast.
By Nicole Dow, CNN
There’s a power struggle going on in the Middle East – a quiet competition between two nations over quite differing ideologies, approaches and rhetoric. The main players in this face-off? Iran and Saudi Arabia. But there’s an interesting twist.
Sectarian differences are at the root of the brewing rivalry for regional supremacy in the Middle East, a rivalry thrust into the spotlight as a result of the crisis in Syria. According to a former senior White House official, it is a case of soft power messaging vs hard power. But in this case, the soft power is coming from Tehran.
“We always think of Iran as a military dictatorship, but the Iranian message is clear, they want free and fair elections” in countries like Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, and also Syria, says Hillary Mann Leverett, a former White House official who worked on Middle East issues and held various roles with the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council.
By Christoph Wilcke, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christoph Wilcke is senior researcher for Saudi Arabia at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
Two Saudi women made Olympic history at the London Games, becoming the first female athletes from that country to participate. Back in Saudi Arabia, though, the sports ministry effectively bans girls and women from practicing sports. The government refused to approve a privately organized women’s Ramadan sporting competition, although organizers said that women participants would be modestly dressed, have their male guardians’ approval, and not mix with men – conditions the Saudi National Olympic Committee imposed for female participation in the Olympics.
Meanwhile, another battle over women’s rights has attracted little outside attention: The push to get women into the workforce, which religious conservatives are fiercely resisting. With four new Labor Ministry decrees in July, the number of jobs open to women has slowly increased, at least in theory. However, these decrees also gave conservatives a victory by reaffirming that strict sex segregation, loosened in 2005, applies to the workplace.
By Rob Sobhani, Special to CNN
Rob Sobhani is president of Caspian Group Holdings, which has interests in green energy and infrastructure projects, and author of ‘King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: A Leader of Consequence’. The views expressed are his own.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain is one of America’s key allies in the Persian Gulf. He’s also among a growing number of political leaders in the Middle East who see more than oil in the region’s future. After all, the Middle East is blessed with an abundance of another natural resource: sunshine.
Bahrain wants to take full advantage of this reality, and harnessing solar energy has become a top priority in the country. But the government has also taken the surprising step of seeking long-term partnerships with leading American solar energy companies.
By Isobel Coleman, CFR
Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Democracy in Development originally appeared here.
This is the summer of the female Olympian. For the first time, every nation competing will have a woman on its team. In an important milestone, the United States is sending more women than men to compete in London. Even the conservative Islamic state of Saudi Arabia is allowing women to participate.
Let’s appreciate that it’s taken women more than a century of struggle to reach this point.
During the first modern Olympics in 1896, women were completely barred from competition. Still, a Greek woman named Stamata Revithi decided to unofficially run the marathon anyway, finishing in five and a half hours. (Revithi was truly at the vanguard of women’s running – women didn’t compete in Olympic marathons until 1984).
By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - CNN iReport is asking people all over the world to give up driving for a day - and document it - in support of women in Saudi Arabia, who aren't allowed to drive because of religious rules in that conservative Middle Eastern kingdom.
Editor’s note: Geneive Abdo is director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington. The views in this article are solely those of Geneive Abdo.
By Geneive Abdo, Special to CNN
Ever since Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah proposed forming a political federation among the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the pros and cons have been fiercely debated across the Middle East.
For many Arabs in the region, particularly Shia communities in Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and particularly Bahrain, such a proposal suggests an attempt to form a dominant Sunni bloc that would tip the balance of power at a time when tensions are escalating between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the wake of the Arab uprisings.
Five countries in the GCC — Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — are Sunni-dominated societies. Only Bahrain, the sixth GCC country, has a Shia majority. With the sectarian conflict in Syria escalating and spilling over into Lebanon, the violent clashes between the two sects in Iraq, and the uprising in Bahrain by a predominantly Shia opposition, the proposed political federation is likely to enflame the regional conflict.
By Fareed Zakaria
I couldn't help but notice a speech this week by a man who has all but disappeared from many of our radars.
In a rare public speech, former President George W. Bush said: "America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East. It only gets to choose what side it is on ... America's message should ring clear and strong: We stand for freedom."
Over the years, and long before the start of the Arab Spring, Bush has been consistent in pressing his freedom agenda in Africa and the Middle East — in fact, the world over.
It's an optimistic conservatism that contrasts strongly with the pessimism of many other conservatives.
Take for example Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last November called the Arab Spring an "Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, undemocratic wave."
The irony is that in his deep suspicion about the Arab Spring, Bibi has a strange bedfellow — the Saudi monarchy. FULL POST
Editor’s Note: Kathleen Sullivan is an analyst at Ergo, a global intelligence and advisory firm. The article below is based on a report Ergo recently published, entitled The Waning Era of Saudi Oil Dominance. Follow Ergo on Twitter.
By Kathleen Sullivan – Special to CNN
Saudi Arabia has thus far managed to stave off the popular protests that have led to the ouster of four Arab heads of state, chiefly due to its strategic and well-timed disbursements of oil-revenue-funded social giveaways. While so far effective in preserving the status quo, this approach has tied the fate of the monarchy to that of its oil revenues - an increasingly risky linkage.
For decades, Saudi Arabia’s booming oil revenues have been a safe bet in a constantly shifting region. Proud and longtime holder of the world’s largest proven reserves, highest exports, and most spare capacity, Saudi Arabia maintained an unrivaled position of dominance in global oil markets. However, a deeper look at Saudi Arabia’s growing domestic pressures and its external challenges reveal signs of decay in the Kingdom’s global oil market dominance, and with it, weakening defenses against a popular uprising. FULL POST
Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. This article is reprinted with permission of the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Robert Danin.
By Robert M. Danin – Special to CNN
Recent demonstrations and violence in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province that left four people dead and nine others wounded raise the question: Is Saudi Arabia the next country that will encounter the wave of popular unrest sweeping the Arab world?
Already the Arab uprisings’ effects have been felt in Saudi Arabia. In February and March, soon after Mubarak’s overthrow in Egypt, Saudi Facebook activists began calling for a revolution and declared a “Day of Rage” for March 11, emulating the youth activists in Egypt and Tunisia. However, the “Day of Rage” fizzled out, and demonstrations were held only in the Eastern Province, home to Saudi’s restive Shia minority. FULL POST