Maybe it’s a start. Saudi Arabia ranks high on the list of countries that, if not outright totalitarian, are certainly not open and democratic either. In fact, Saudi Arabia is almost alone among such countries in that it has never held elections or referendums.Â It’s the Saudi family that lays down the law very autocratically. That may be about to change, just a tiny bit. Not because the Saudis have suddenly seen the light. But because they are under intense pressure to open things up a bit.
In the past, eager to maintain our oil supply, the American government and other western governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye to the Saudi way of governing. It is fair to say that the spotlight on Saudi society has never shined so brightly as it has in the couple of years since 9/11. Most of the hijackers, after all, were Saudi nationals. So is Bin Laden. The Saudis have announced that half of municipal council members will now be determined by election. According to the Saudi press agency, the goal is to widen “popular participation and [confirm] the country’s progress towards political and administrative reform.”
Saudi Arabia’s extensive first family may think they’re just throwing a sop to democratic sentiment. They may think that after all this terrorist stuff blows over they can go back to doing business as usual. But as a certain Mikhail Gorbachev discovered, even a little bit of real democracy tends to exceed the expectations of the rulers who permit it.
This is Common Sense.Â I’m Paul Jacob.