Saudi Women Buckle Up for Their Human Rights

Saudi women wait for their drivers outside a shopping mall in Riyadh. © AFP/Getty Images

Having recently won the right to vote, Saudi women activists now are driving to end discrimination and demand all of their human rights.

Saudi women are responding positively to a royal decree granting them the right to vote, but they insist that they will not settle for partial rights. One of their most pressing targets is a continuing ban on their right to drive. “[Winning the vote] is a good sign, and we have to take advantage of it, but we still need more rights,” stated Maha al-Qahtani, one of the women who recently defied the ban on driving.


Election Day in Egypt: Celebrations and Concerns

Egyptian protestors wave national flags

© STR/AFP/Getty Images

After decades of authoritarian rule, any opportunity for a popular election in Egypt should be a moment to celebrate.  But today’s national parliamentary election, while representing another step toward democracy, is also one that comes with significant concerns.

The underlying news today is that the strong turnouts, marred by four-hour delays at some sites, is a sign of the deep and passionate need of Egyptians to have a full stake in their political future. There are thousands of examples, but one that touched me was hearing from Radio Masr of an 82-year-old woman who was so happy that she was voting for the first time.


Hope that Jan. 25 Demonstrations May Mark a New Direction for Egypt

There have been many demonstrations for political rights in Egypt, but many activists are saying they have never seen the level of excitement that they are seeing around the Jan. 25 demonstrations set for sites throughout Egypt (with some solidarity marches planned in the U.S. and elsewhere).

Now the question is how the Egyptian security authorities will respond.

The difference, of course, is the lightning bolt provided by the Tunisian revolution this month, which has energized human rights and democracy activists in Egypt and throughout the region.  Egyptian activists have not been quiet over the past few year but the combination of stale economic growth, a tiring number of instances of government corruption and yet another unfair national election marred by government limits on political activity, the possibility of change does seem to be plausible.

But there have been reports of police threats to take action against demonstrators. Opposition activists, including members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organization and the National Association for Change, have reportedly been summoned and threatened with arrest and detention if they go ahead with plans to protest.

Jan. 25 is a national holiday to celebrate the achievements of the Egyptian police force.

“Egypt needs to allow peaceful protests, and stop arresting and intimidating peaceful opposition activists” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa program.   “The country’s security forces have a worrying record when dealing with demonstrators, and we urge them to refrain from excessive and disproportionate force tomorrow.”

Hopes have been raised before in Egypt, only to be stopped by a combination of oppressive government response and opposition in-fighting.  Some blame the international community for continuing to support the Mubarak regime without pushing for change. But for a long time, activists have sensed that “long arc of justice” working in their favor.  If this is their time, they need to know the international community is behind them now and unequivocally.

For those who would like to follow reports of the demonstrations, activists have set a Twitter hastag of #Jan25.

Jan. 25 Update: The best English-language review of the day’s event, which included large number of arrests, can be found here.