Saudi social media joy at reform promise

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Saudi women wait for their drivers outside a shopping mall in RiyadhImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive or to leave the country unaccompanied

The news of King Abdallah's plans to grant Saudi women the right to vote and stand in municipal elections is being met with elation by the country's Twitterati and Facebook enthusiasts.

Whilst Saudi women on social media sites seem overjoyed at the news, it does not slip their attention that the king neglected to mention demands for the right to drive, the subject of a lively internet campaign since June.

"A new day for Saudi women"

The Twitter account Women2Drive, set up to promote the campaign to allow Saudi women the right to drive cars in the Kingdom, tweets: "A new day for Saudi women..a new era..the dream comes so true..Good morning ladies..and gentlemen."

Although the first tweets on Women2Drive can't praise the reforms enough, they quickly tone down their excitement, noting that several Saudi women's rights activists are facing trial in the Kingdom for their role in the "Women 2 Drive" campaign.

At least one draws attention to the upcoming trial of activist Najla Hariri, who was arrested after posting a video of herself driving on YouTube.

Joy and jubilation

Initial reactions on Facebook to King Abdallah's announcement are almost all positive and express gratitude to the royal family for their role in the reforms.

Commenting on "We are all Manal al-Sharif" - a Facebook page set up in support of another Saudi rights activist who was arrested after posting a video of herself driving a car - user "Noor Ali" writes: "God protect you, O Sheikh", referring to King Abdallah. Other users simply say "Thank God" or "Congratulations" on posts announcing the news.

On a post on the "Saudi Women Driving Campaign" page, "Bana Jomaa" writes "we're getting there inshallah we're getting all our rights", showing how quick Saudis were to notice that their original demand has not been addressed.

More reforms soon?

Despite the positive reaction, many Saudi social media users are sceptical about the move. They seem disappointed that the king did not mention the driving issue, but no Saudi users on any social media sites seem willing to directly criticize King Abdallah or the ruling Al Saud family.

Hussein Marzouq comments on the "We are all Manal al-Sharif" page that "Political participation for women is also a less contentious issue than the right to drive - still driving is a right for women". But few are as frank as this.

"Al-Bandari Abdallah" comments on the same page: "Our hope has grown with the new decisions. God willing Saudi women will drive soon" and "Sawdiyah La-Diniyah" notes that it's a "Good start…but when [will women be] driving!!"

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