A good day for progress in Saudi Arabia

Putting women on the Shura Council is a far-seeing decision, and bolder than it may seem, a columnist writes. Other topics today: refugees in the snow and the war on the Brotherhood.

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King Abdullah's historic decree adding women to Shura Council makes a happy day for Saudis

The change is nothing short of historic: King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia issued a decree on Friday allowing women to become members of the Kingdom's Shura Council for the first time. It was "a happy day indeed for all Saudis", columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed wrote in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

There will be a 20 per cent quota, so he appointed 30 women to take their seats within the 150-member advisory body.

Some may be astonished by the media fanfare that followed the announcement. But in Saudi Arabia this is a long and complex story, much more that just an issue of women and quotas in the Shura Council.

This step comes as a breakthrough in a kingdom well known for its conservative culture. For the past few years, the king has been cautiously introducing social reforms aimed at empowering women and modernising the economy.

Just recently, Saudi issued a series of decisions to "feminise" a number of businesses. This means allowing women to work in grocery stores and women's goods stores. But even these simple professions drew interminable arguments and wrangles between supporters of modernity and ultraconservative critics.

"Hence, to allow women into a political institution is yet another brave decision by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz," said the writer.

The Saudi sovereign has been working towards enabling women in most areas. Thousands of Saudi women have gone to study abroad and have been granted employment in new professions. Also, women have been put into senior government positions and they participated in the previously male-dominated ministerial and diplomatic administration sectors.

"The king is leading the way to change and development that respond to the need to modernise the country and that acknowledge the rights of women who, contrary to the allegations of naysayers, have always had a significant role in Islamic history," added the writer.

The appointment of 30 women to the 150-member Shura Council holds considerable symbolic significant. It indicates that the state is leading the society, and is implementing a gradual transition process.

Should the government's plans to empower women succeed, many a balance will be reset, to society's advantage. The changes would improve many families incomes and increase of Saudi participation in the labour market.

More importantly, it would introduce new social values regarding the status and the rights of women.

"It is no longer logical that two million girls are given education opportunities, but once they graduate from the best universities they aren't given their rightful place in all sectors of society, politics and economy," noted Al Rashed.

What's behind Gulf's Brotherhood moves?

Those who follow media reports from around the Gulf will realise there is a campaign being waged against the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in general, wrote Abdulbari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi.

"This campaign against the Brotherhood, and maybe Salafists later, runs against a legacy of alliance between the conservative Gulf states and [Brotherhood and Salafists]," he wrote. He offered six reasons for the campaign.

First, the Gulf states have realised that the Brotherhood is a global organisation that requires allegiance to its General Guide in Egypt, not to local authorities.

Second, the Brotherhood has had influence over future generations through its presence in education systems and ultimately within vital institutions such as the army and security apparatus.

The third reason is the weakness of liberals and leftists due to decades of suppression, which helped the Brotherhood to grow.

Fourth, Islamists have financial independence by virtue of their "intricate organisational web", that makes them powerful politically and financially.

The fifth reason is that Islamists have a popular base because of their religious background and their control of mosques, directly or indirectly.

Finally, non-Jihadist Islamists deliberately avoid any unnecessary confrontation with the state and exercise self-control.

Blizzard reveals plight of hapless refugees

The blizzard that hit the Levant last week uncovered the failure of the international community and humanitarian organisations to assume their responsibilities towards the numerous Syrian refugees, the Jordanian daily Addustour argued in its editorial on Saturday.

Extreme conditions tore the refugees' flimsy tents apart, leaving adults and children exposed to the unexpectedly harsh weather.

A number of people lost their lives; many more had new suffering added to their plight.

The horrible tragedy that three million Syrian refugees within Syria and in neighbouring countries are made to endure is a condemnation of the international community, the newspaper went on to say.

Two years into the crisis, the world has yet to stop the violence in Syria and rescue its people from worsening conditions. Shortages of basic necessities put them on the brink of famine.

"Support and solidarity statements from the international community and from host countries are no longer sufficient. The snowstorm that hit refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey has rendered that kind of literary rhetoric unusable.

"An international rescue campaign is of the essence to relieve the suffering of our brethren," concluded the paper.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk