In theory

One possible reason for Saudi Arabia loosening restrictions on women

A Saudi woman gets into a taxi at a mall in Riyadh. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

In The Washington Post, two academics argue that the real reason Saudi Arabia has somewhat loosened its tight social restrictions on women lately is not because of shifting generational attitudes as many believe. Instead, Ph.D. student Yu-Ming Liou and assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Paul Musgrave say it is because of fiscal challenges, not moral shifts.

The authors believe that with low oil prices that are expected to remain as such, Saudi Arabia cannot afford to subsidize its citizens as it used to or earn favor from powerful interest groups via monetary or policy-based rewards anymore, and therefore, that the social influence from those interest groups is on the wane.

Liou and Musgrave explain their position in an upcoming article in the journal International Studies Quarterly, summarizing in the Post:

“…we argue that autocrats in oil-rich states strike bargains with important societal interest groups. Rulers impose repressive social policies to secure the backing of key groups — as the Saudi royal family has done with the Wahhabist religious authorities. If those social policies are being withdrawn, it means that the monarchy is trying to rewrite that bargain.”

Liou and Musgrave point to examples like Saudi women voting in the December elections and being granted access to their marriage licenses, as well as the possible hint that driving restrictions in the kingdom could someday be lifted, in support of their theory.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.

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