The swearing-in of women to Saudi Arabia’s consultative body, an intensification of fighting between government and opposition forces in Syria, and the resignation of Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jabali lead the news in Arab media on Wednesday.
“The development we all strive for must be gradual,” Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz told the Shura Council’s swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday. For the first time in the kingdom’s history, women were appointed as deputies in the largely symbolic council.
London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi highlights the ailing king’s short televised address, the first since November. The daily stresses the king’s effort to gradually and carefully integrate women into the political system.
“Your place in the Shura Council is not honorary but appointed and representative of the segments of Saudi society,” the king told the 29 women, who comprise approximately one fifth of the 150-member consultative assembly.
The new deputies told A-Sharq Al-Awsat, a mouthpiece for the Saudi regime, that they hope their role will not be limited to women’s issues.
Lubna Ansari, a new appointee, told the daily that she has exerted great efforts to insert women into the council, who are no less capable than their male counterparts.
But in a critical op-ed titled “They enter the Shura Council but they cannot drive their cars,” Al-Quds Al-Arabi editor-in-chief Abdul Bari Atwan says the king’s newfound feminism is too little, too late.
“The move is bold relative to this conservative country, but it remains very belated compared to other Islamic and Arab countries in which women won greater political and social participation, side by side with men, including high-ranking ministerial and executive positions. In some cases, such as Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, women even reached leadership,” writes Atwan.
In comparison, the Saudi Shura council is neither an elected body nor are its decisions binding.
“The question that must be forcefully raised, and must be debated by many inside and outside the kingdom, is how can the Saudi woman enter the Shura Council while not being able to drive a car, for instance?”
Tunisian prime minister resigns, maybe to return
“Tunisia: The resignation of Jabali complicates the political crisis,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat. According to the daily, Jabali announced that he refuses to be part of any new government before a new constitution is drafted and elections are held, exacerbating the political troubles of the ruling Ennahda party.
Jabali, claims Al-Hayat, still holds significant weight within his party, and his failed initiative to form a technocrat government has divided Ennahda.
In an article titled “Jabali resigns and places conditions for his return if reappointed,” A-Sharq Al-Awsat claims that Jabali now faces three constitutional possibilities. He can leave the political world completely; he can resign and return as prime minister of the next government; or he can continue trying to convince political parties to accept his proposal of a technocrat government.
It seems, the daily concludes, that Jabali has chosen the second option, namely, “resign and wait.”
Qatari news station Al-Jazeera predicts that Jabali will indeed take the helm of the next government. An Ennahda party official, Amer Al-Aridh, told the station that Jabali remains the party’s first choice as prime minister of an expanded coalition government, wider than the current ruling troika.
In an editorial titled “the Tunisian surprises of Mr. Jabali,” London-based Al-Quds A-Arabi claims that it is still difficult to predict whether Jabali will agree to lead a new government which will not be purely technocratic, or whether he will leave politics altogether.
“By accepting a new presidential appointment, Jabali will have succumbed to the opinion of Sheikh Rashed Ghanoushi, leader of the Ennahda party, who vehemently opposed the idea of a technocrat government. Refusing this appointment could mean his resignation from the party along with his supporters, to form a new Islamic party.”
Assad regime fires Scuds at cities, FSA threatens Hezbollah in Lebanon
While Syrian oppositionists are reporting the use of Scud missiles by the Assad regime against population centers held by rebel forces, the Free Syrian Army is threatening to attack Hezbollah within Lebanese territory if it does not desist from aiding the Assad regime.
On Tuesday, the Free Syrian Army gave Hezbollah a 48-hour time-frame to stop shelling Syrian villages from within Lebanon before “returning fire” toward Hezbollah-held villages in eastern Lebanon.
Hezbollah denied direct involvement in fighting within Syria, but a member of the FSA speaking to A-Sharq Al-Awsat said the Lebanese Shiite movement was assisting local Shiites in Syria with training, supplies and fire cover from positions within Lebanon.
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