The Middle East Channel

Saudi Arabia issues warning against women’s driving campaign

Saudi Arabia has warned it may take action against women who participated in a campaign Saturday to defy a ban on women drivers. Women activists have been posting videos of themselves driving around the kingdom and claim they have an online petition demanding change with 16,600 signatures. This is the third effort of its kind, with others either fizzling out or resulting in arrests of a number of women, or causing some to lose their jobs. However, activists believe the mood is changing, that they have greater support, and that the government is split over whether to lift the ban. However, on Wednesday, Interior Ministry Spokesman General Mansur al-Turki stated, "It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate support." It was a rare and explicit restating of the ban, which is informal. It is not specifically illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, however authorities will not issue women licenses.

Syria

Norway has declined a U.S. request to destroy a substantial portion of Syria's chemical weapons. Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said the government had given "serious and thorough consideration" over whether it could manage destroying 500 tons of chemical components and had reached its decision in partnership with the United States. However, the two countries determined Norway was not best suited "due to time constraints and external factors, such as capacities and regulatory requirements." The countries decided Norway would contribute to the work of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in other areas such as economic, personnel, and inspectors. The OPCW aims to eliminate the Syrian regime's chemical production capabilities by November 1 and is expected to release a plan for the destruction of the government's chemical weapons by next week. Meanwhile, as Syria's civil war has forced over two million people to seek refuge outside the country, concerns are increasing for the over five million people who have been displaced from their homes, yet remain within the country's borders. On Friday, clashes were reported between Kurdish militiamen and several Islamist groups in Yaroubiyeh near the northeastern border with Iraq.

Headlines  

  • Fighting in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli between the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods has extended into a fifth day, leaving five people dead and another 47 people wounded.
  • Clashes in the Tunisian capital of Tunis Friday between suspected Islamist militants and security forces killed one person and injured three others, two days after six police officers and two militants were killed in fighting.
  • Several bombings targeting the homes of policemen in the central Iraqi city of Baqouba killed four people Friday, meanwhile a market bombing south of Baghdad killed five people and wounded 15 others. 

Arguments and Analysis

'Egypt after July 3: A Crossroads for Democracy' (Amr Hamzawy, Atlantic Council)

"Over the past several months, the democratization movement in Egypt has been at a crossroads. Since July 3, countless secular political parties and movements have stood under their liberal and leftist banners, among them Communists, Socialists, Nasserists, and Arab Nationalists, in support of a military intervention into politics. They supported the removal of an elected president, without early presidential elections. This was despite the fact that elections were a main demand of the crowds that filled the streets on June 30. They supported suspending the constitution (my own opposition to it aside), and establishing ‘democracy' without recourse to a popular referendum and its ballot boxes. These parties and movements are far removed from a real commitment to the principles and values of democracy -- and instead, appear quite ready to compromise them.

Leftist and liberal leaders were more than happy to cooperate with the de facto authority that imposed itself after June 30.  In that time, Egypt has witnessed repeated oppressions: satellite channels were shut down, members and leaders of political parties and movements on the religious right arrested, the Raba'a al-Adaweya and Nahda sit-ins dispersed, and there is clear evidence of repeated human rights violations. Yet with just a single exception, representatives from liberal and leftist groups have continued to work with Egypt's de facto authority. Most of their parties chose silence rather than condemn the repression."

'Pique your partners' (The Economist)

"Some suspect that the Saudis, by rejecting the UN council seat, intend not to revert into shyness, but to adopt a more aggressive regional role. By this reasoning, they are not simply throwing up their hands in despair but are acting in the expectation of future clashes with the Security Council, perhaps over Iran and Syria. In recent months, commentators known to express publicly what princes say in private have hinted at a growing Saudi impatience for a bolder foreign policy. This could include a go-it-alone effort to topple Mr Assad.

Yet despite its immense wealth, the militarily feeble kingdom still needs friends, particularly in a world where oil prices may well decline. This could be another reason for its sudden reticence. Saudi Arabia has always preferred closed-doors diplomacy to open forums. A seat in the UN's topmost council would have risked exposing, repeatedly and in full public view, a widening policy gap between the kingdom and its closest ally. This would not only represent a break with tradition, but could be seen in Riyadh as a strategic mistake that could be tricky to correct."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

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