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Saudi king leads charge in region's equal rights

Oct. 18, 2005


Saudi Arabia has opened up the door to take steps forward in women's rights.

In an episode of 20/20 that aired Friday, Saudi King Abdullah told Barbara Walters that women could someday be allowed to hold driver's licenses and drive cars.

The 82-year-old tempered his claim by saying that it wouldn't happen any time soon because any decision would follow the desires of his people.

Ben Humeniuk | Lariat staff
That kind of speech is what more people in the region need to be hearing. It takes a long time to change rules. It takes longer to change perceptions.

A few weeks ago, senior Bush administration official Karen Hughes spoke to a group of wealthy college-age Saudi women. She said she hoped that in the future, Saudi women would enjoy the freedoms American women do.

But they told Hughes that they're happy with women's rights the way they are and don't want increased freedom.

"The general image of the Arab woman is that she isn't happy," one audience member was quoted in the New York Times as saying. "Well, we're all pretty happy."

There's an incredibly thin line between the U.S. trying to advance civil rights across the globe and modeling the rest of world after American culture.

But trying to advance women's rights falls within that line that stands between advancing human rights and squashing culture.

Just because something's been done for generations doesn't make it right. Not every aspect of culture is necessarily good, even if it's unique.

Few would argue that the actions the U.S. took to help end South African apartheid were wrong, or that slavery and segregation in our own country were positive.

Although some Saudi women themselves object to it now, they should have the option of social freedom before rejecting it.

Changing their minds will take a long time.

It did here, as pre-suffrage movement women expressed many of the same ideas as modern Saudis.

Maybe if people like the Saudi king continue to promote women's rights, they'll change the minds that really influence Middle Eastern policy.