The real question is whether the Gulf societies can, after 1400 years, catch up to the rights granted women in Islam.

Prof. Juan Cole, an American scholar, public intellectual and historian of the modern Middle East and South Asia, in a commentary piece about Saudi’s surprise announcement to allow women to vote in and run for office in the 2015 municipal elections.

He writes:

Treatment of women in Saudi Arabia has much more to do with Gulf customs and feelings about gender segregation and male honor being invested in protecting the chastity of the family’s women than it has to do with Islam.

The Qur’an sees women as spiritually equal to men. One of the prophet’s wives later led a battle, so women in early Islam were hardly shrinking lilies…

The royal family may be moving too slowly. Half the population is less than 25 years old. The country is 82 percent urban, and 79 percent literate… Some 60 percent of university students are women. Relatively well-off middle classes in countries like Saudi Arabia frequently get up the courage to challenge the authoritarian character of their government…

Inequality of wealth, high youth unemployment, allegations of corruption, and political repression have all contributed to subterranean discontent. Whether mollifying the half of the population that consists of women will be enough to forestall a growing movement of discontentment remains to be seen.

Read the full piece here. And tell us what you think!

How significant is the upcoming Saudi reform? And how much do GCC customs have to do with Islam?

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