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Monday, October 13, 2003
For those of you wondering why we went to Iraq:

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 13 — Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, announced on Monday it would hold its first elections to choose municipal councils in what is widely seen as the first concrete political reform in the Gulf Arab state.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by the cabinet followed increased demands by reformists, intellectuals and academics on de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah to allow wider political participation, elections and freedom of expression in the conservative kingdom.

“The council of ministers decided to widen participation of citizens in running local affairs through elections by activating municipal councils, with half the members of each council being elected," the state news agency SPA said.

The kingdom, under the dynastic rule of the house of Saud since it was founded, has an appointed advisory Shura Council but had never had elections for public office at any level.

Is this move toward popular elections enough? No. Does it mean that Saudi Arabia (or the Middle East in general) is about to become a secular democracy? No. But its a start and a start is one whole helluva lot better than nothing. Left out of the story: Are women permitted to vote? To run for the positions open?

I think the House of Saud is going to find (over the course of years, if not decades) that half measures like this one lead to increased, not decreased, demands for more freedom and political and economic self determination. The Chinese are currently discovering this, and are reacting by attempting to censor the internet. Talk about hopeless tasks.

Would anyone care to speculate whether the "reformists, intellectuals and academics" would have been able to demand anything at all of Adullah without 150,000 US troops next door? How about some speculation on how likely a development like this would without a nascent democracy next door being installed by those 150,000 US troops?
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