Saudi Women Join Government, GCC Pursues Military Hardware
King Abdullah swore in Saudi Arabia’s first female members of the Shura Council on Tuesday. One fifth of the new Shura Council is comprised of women, with a total of 30 female members. The Council is remodeling its chambers to accommodate gender segregation among members. The change is hailed by some as an important step toward female participation in the Saudi public sphere, but critics claim the change is only symbolic given the Council’s limited legislative power and the king’s role in appointing its members. King Abdullah has also enacted reforms allowing women to vote and compete in municipal elections in 2015.
Meanwhile, countries across the Gulf are acquiring military hardware. The purchases point to rising concerns among Gulf states about the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and the potential spreading of regional unrest. Requested hardware includes mine-resistant vehicles, a Patriot missile system, medium-range surface-to-air missiles, warplanes, and observation drones. Private companies and Western states, including Britain and France, are competing for the sales. Recent requests by the United Arab Emirates to the U.S. Congress for defense missiles have raised questions regarding whether the U.S. is backing a GCC effort to develop a regional missile defense shield. Analysts indicate that the idea of a regional shield is up for debate but that there is not yet multinational cooperation on the subject and plans for a shield would face significant political obstacles in the region.