Monday, February 18, 2008

Perestroika in Saudi Arabia?

The last thing a Westerner would think to put together is Saudi Arabia and women's rights. Saudi Arabia is known as one of the most repressive states in the world when it come to issues like gender equality.

However, the Kingdom is showing some signs lately of loosening up. In an important development, this article in the UK news site The Telegraph reports that:

"Saudi Arabia is to lift its ban on women drivers in an attempt to stem a rising suffragette-style movement in the deeply conservative state.

Government officials have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.

The move is designed to forestall campaigns for greater freedom by women, which have recently included protesters driving cars through the Islamic state in defiance of a threat of detention and loss of livelihoods."

But there's still more.

"Between an oil refinery and the sea, the monarch is building from scratch a graduate research institution that will have one of the 10 largest endowments in the world, worth more than $10 billion.

Its planners say men and women will study side by side in an enclave walled off from the rest of Saudi society, the country’s notorious religious police will be barred and all religious and ethnic groups will be welcome in a push for academic freedom and international collaboration sure to test the kingdom’s cultural and religious limits.

This undertaking is directly at odds with the kingdom’s religious establishment, which severely limits women’s rights and rejects coeducation and robust liberal inquiry as unthinkable.

For the new institution, the king has cut his own education ministry out the loop, hiring the state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco to build the campus, create its curriculum and attract foreigners."

While such a facility would be most welcome, I can't help but think what a terrorist magnet the campus would be. I don't doubt that security for people entering and exiting the campus will be very tight. But if they plan on having any chemistry labs in the school, then terrorists who infiltrate the campus as graduate students need not smuggle explosives into the school as they would have the materials they need on site to make their bombs.

It will be interesting to see how it all works out, but the skeptic in me has some serious doubts. Still, I plan to keep an eye on this one.


tina FCD said...

Very interesting. I will be watching this too.

Antimatter said...

You've got to be kidding! Terrorists making bombs with the chemistry lab chemicals sounds like a typical 'movie terrorist threat' scenario, not something to consider as a certainty! Do you seriously think all the terrorists are chemical weapons experts, or that they'd send their chemical weapons experts / bomb experts on such suicidal missions, or that the people allowed on the premises wouldn't be carefully screened beforehand with background checks (this is Saudi Arabia, after all), or that the chemicals are going to be so easily accessible and not under lock and key, etc...?

My point is, while the scenario is perhaps possible, you've painted it as a likely one based on essentially no facts. There may be security weaknesses, and there may not be. There might be other weaknesses - perhaps the terrorist could get a gun from one of the security guards on campus and mow down students. Who can say? But I somehow doubt the terrorists sitting around heard this news and thought "ah yes, this is great news, we can infiltrate the campus and make our bombs on site without having to sneak them in! Awesome!". They'd probably have to wait till they can scope the joint before arriving at such conclusions :)