You Say You Want A Revolution: Saudi Arabia

Rahaf al-Qunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman, boarded a plane this week in Kuwait in hopes of reaching Australia. On arriving in Bangkok, where she intended to change planes, she says she was greeted by a Saudi official who seized her passport. (Saudi officials deny this.)


Thai officials tried to persuade her to board a return flight, but the young woman explained she had renounced Islam and would be killed if she went home. Thai officials then assured her she would not be forced to leave. On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees referred her to Australia to be considered for refugee resettlement.

This episode has refocused global attention on gender politics in Saudi Arabia. Much has been made of last year's decision to allow women in the kingdom to drive. Beginning this weekend, female citizens also have the right to know if their husband has divorced them—courts will be required to inform women via text that their husband has made other marital plans.

But if you're a female Saudi citizen, you still can't legally open a bank account without permission from a male guardian. Or apply for a passport. Even if you have a passport, male approval is required for travel abroad. You can't get married, open certain types of businesses, or have elective surgery. That all-important guardian can be your father, husband, brother, or son.

This brings us back to Rahaf al-Qunun. It was not the Saudi government or police that threatened her, she told Thai authorities. It's her family. "My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things," she told Reuters.

The bottom-line: Changing the law is one thing, and changing culture is another. By launching reforms that give Saudi women new freedoms, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's social reforms will ignite a million small revolutions behind closed doors. Because your father, husband, brother, or son may not want you to have the things your government (finally) says you're entitled to.

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Among the 23 men and women now seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to take on Donald Trump in next year's election, the frontrunner, at least for now, has spent half a century in politics. Former Vice President Joe Biden, first elected to the US Senate in 1972, is the very epitome of the American political establishment.

Yet, the dominant political trend in many democracies today is public rejection of traditional candidates and parties of the center-right and center-left in favor of new movements, voices, and messages. Consider the evidence from some recent elections:

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It's Friday, and Signal readers deserve at least one entirely upbeat news story.

José Obdulio Gaviria, a Colombian senator for the rightwing Democratic Center party, is an outspoken opponent of government attempts to make peace with the FARC rebel group after 50 years of conflict.

On his way into a meeting earlier this week, Gaviria collapsed. It was later reported that he had fainted as a result of low blood pressure probably caused by complications following recent open heart surgery.

A political rival, Senator Julian Gallo, quickly came to his rescue and revived him using resuscitation skills he learned as—irony alert—a FARC guerrilla. CPR applied by Gallo helped Gaviria regain consciousness, before another senator, who is also professional doctor, took over. Gaviria was taken to hospital and appears to have recovered.

Because some things will always be more important than politics.