Saudi Arabia Appoints First Female Minister

February 16, 2009

Author: Julian Borger

Source: The Guardian

An expert on girls' education became Saudi Arabia's first woman minister on Saturday as part of a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle by King Abdullah that swept aside several bastions of ultra-conservatism.

Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, a US-educated former teacher, was made deputy education minister in charge of a new department for female students, a significant breakthrough in a country where women are not allowed to drive.

"This is an honour not only for me but for all Saudi women. In the presence of a comprehensive operational team, I believe I'll be able to face challenges and create positive change," she told Arab News. Fayez said she would study the state of girls' education in Saudi Arabia before commenting on the task before her.

In his first reshuffle since assuming the throne in 2005, King Abdullah also replaced two powerful enemies of reform, the chief of the Saudi religious police, Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, and the country's most senior judge, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan. Ghaith, who runs the commission for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice, known as the mutawa, which enforces bans on alcohol and drugs, has gained a reputation for brutality. Luhaydan ruled last year that it was permissible to kill owners of satellite television channels broadcasting "immoral" programmes. Several other hardline judges were sacked as part of a challenge against the kingdom's hardline religious establishment.

The grand Ulema commission, an influential grouping of religious scholars, will be reconfigured and opened to moderate clerics, breaking the grip of the ultra-conservatives.