A woman is sentenced to be whipped ten lashes for . . . drumroll . . . driving a car. That might have made for a fairly typical week in Saudi Arabia. After all, the kingdom’s 20 million subjects and 5 million immigrant laborers are under constant surveillance by the mutaween, the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a police force several thousand strong that enthusiastically enforces Saudi law.
Whipping is a common punishment, so much so that our Saudi allies carefully regulate it: When the authorities impose hundreds of lashes, the sentences are carried out over weeks or months, no more than 50 strokes per session. Maybe the CIA should have consulted the enlightened sheikhs to ensure that waterboarding terrorists was as humane as whipping drivers.
In the scheme of things, you might even say that Shema Jastaina’s ten-lash sentence was pretty darn moderate. Certainly the thirtysomething driver got off easier than Khamisa Mohammed Sadawi. She is the 75-year-old Syrian who, in 2009, was sentenced to 40 lashes, as well as four months in the slammer. Busting through her door, the mutaween caught her consorting with two young men, neither related to her. The elderly woman was apparently undermining Saudi virtue by accepting a bread delivery. The painstaking Saudi investigation uncovered that 24-year-old Fahd’s presence on the scene was halal because, in his infancy, Khamisa had breast-fed him. Sure, she was about 50 at the time, but in the kingdom, blood is thicker than water, and breast milk — well, you get the idea. Alas, Fahd’s companion, Hadian, had not had the pleasure. He was thus a stranger, his moral rectitude imperiled by the septuagenarian temptress. Forty lashes, next case.
It turns out, though, that the week of Ms. Jastaina’s conviction for driving while female was anything but typical. Only a couple of days earlier, the maestro of Saudi justice, King Abdullah, decreed that henceforth, Saudi women would enjoy the right to vote and hold public office. At least, that’s how the announcement was splashed across the West by our Islamophilic media and the kingdom’s network of well-compensated cheerleaders.
Leave it to us party poopers at National Review. On the Corner, the invaluable Nina Shea, who directs the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, pointed out that there is considerably less to Abdullah’s edict than meets the eye.
For one thing, the word “vote” does not appear in it. Instead, women will be allowed to “participate in the nomination of candidates” in municipal elections. It is anything but clear that this equates to a right to vote in elections. What passes for “elections” in the Saudi monarchy is a bifurcated procedure in which candidates first are nominated by amassing a required threshold of support and later compete in an election. The most sensible interpretation of the decree is that women will partake in part one but not part two.
As for holding office, women will be permitted to serve on the king’s consultative “Shura Council.” Sounds great, except the Shura Council, like the local councils whose memberships are determined by the aforementioned municipal elections, has no actual power — which is what you might expect in an autocracy. The royal decree is window dressing.
And even as window dressing, it may not be authentic. At 88 and in failing health, Abdullah is essentially non compos mentis. Throughout his more sentient years, the king’s regard for the fairer sex was unexceptionally Islamist. Recall his 2002 visit to Pres. George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch, when Abdullah’s advance team demanded that all air-traffic controllers directing his flight and all airport personnel meeting it be men. (Naturally, the FAA lapdogs complied, and, once the story inevitably leaked out, the State Department dutifully echoed the Saudi party line that no such demand had ever been made.) Thus, as Nina relates, it is widely rumored that an opportunistic royal daughter somehow finagled the decree out of the daffy old polygamist.