The king of Saudi Arabia has announced that women citizens will finally be given the right to vote in municipal elections.
This is a sign that even one of most autocratic regimes in the region has had to bend to the demand for more political freedom thrown up by the Arab revolutions.
There were demonstrations in Saudi Arabia earlier this year calling for democracy. But they were brutally repressed.
The same violence was used against demonstrators opposing the use of Saudi forces to crush Bahrain’s democracy movement.
Yet at the same time the king pledged an extra £90 billion in social welfare spending in an attempt to placate the resistance.
Granting women the vote is a welcome reform—but it does not mean democracy has come to one of the West’s closest allies.
Women cannot use this new right in this week’s elections—and it will be another four years until the next ones.
The municipal elections are the only elections in the kingdom. They elect half the seats on the Shura Council. The king appoints the other half of this body—and it is only a consultative body.
The West likes to claim it is on the side of democracy in the Middle East. But Western leaders won’t utter a word of criticism of their repressive Saudi friends.