Change is afoot for Saudi Arabia’s female citizens, or so suggests much commentary about events over the past few years. There was the first election in which women could vote, the first public concert by a female performer, and soon (if all goes according to plan) for the first time Saudi women will be able to drive on the streets of Riyadh and elsewhere in the kingdom. All have garnered their share of headlines.
Rulers in the Arab Gulf monarchies, including Saudi Arabia, seem well aware of the spotlight grabbing power of historic “firsts,” in which the power to effect change seems to derive from the hand signing the latest decree. This September, Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry quickly warned activists away from speaking to the press about any role they might have had in ending the driving ban, so determined were they to see media narratives of a changing kingdom driven by references to “modernizing monarchs”—chiefly the oft-profiled Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. [...]
This research was first published in Middle East Report Online, January 11, 2018, and can be found on this link: https://merip.org/2018/01/onwards-and-upwards-with-women-in-the-gulf/