Saudi Arabia has for long been one of the last bastions of male conservatism. Women have few political rights and are not even issued driving licences.
Much of that changed in the course of a 5-minute speech by the country’s sovereign, King Abdullah, on Sunday. Henceforth, women will be allowed to join the advisory Shura Council that vets legislation. They can also contest and vote in municipal elections.
Much of the credit for the change, it has to be said, goes to Saudi women, who have campaigned hard for these rights for some time now. But equally, the winds of change sweeping the Middle East have had some role to play in this change.
Even today, countries reserve the right to adopt a pace of change suited to their conditions. But denial of basic political freedom is clearly out of place in the world as we know it today. It cannot be justified in the name of any ideology.