Saudi Arabia and democracy

This morning, I voted early in Durham.  I went to the Board of Election office, on Corporation Street, around 10 a.m., and I got to vote at 11 a.m.  It was a nice crisp sunny morning to wait in line for an hour.  Supporters of candidates, and some candidates themselves (mainly for the Superior Court Judge position), were out giving out leaflets saying to support X or Y or Z candidate.

As I got closer to the building where I voted, I saw some cars drive right up and physically handicapped voters were allowed to vote from the car that drove them up to the poll.  An election official came to the car to make sure the person was on the voting rolls, and they handed their ballot to the official, and then they drove away.  One van had a sign taped on the side of it saying “Free Ride to Vote,” which led me to believe that when the van dropped the woman who was in the van back off at her house, the driver would be picking up additional voters and driving them to the polls.

I wish I had a camera to capture the length of the line and the guy in the red, white and blue suit and top-hat.  He was the director of the Board of Elections and he said that today “democracy wins,” which was quite a nice sentiment.  It was a festive affair.

Here are a sampling of the leaflets I collected:

It’s interesting how some candidates clearly have more money than others — note how the professional color handouts vary from the plain copied pages — on either yellow card stock or plain white paper.

Anyway, afer voting, I headed over to Duke to work out at the gym, and I ended up reading an article from The Economist that I had seen before online.  It was about the slow pace of reform in Saudi Arabia, a country that does not permit women to drive.

One fact from the article stunned me — it reported that:

when Saudi schools reopened in September, parents were surprised to find that in the new, “reformed” religion curriculum, supposedly purged of bigotry as part of a post-September 11th initiative to promote a more tolerant Islam, students are still taught that it is wrong to say hello to non-Muslims.

That last part blew me away.

At the end of the article (which you really should read — it’s short), it noted that while the King has made several reforms, it would be nice if reform did not depend on the whims of the king.  Here’s how the article ends:

Saudis have heard barely a whisper of one day setting the pace of change themselves, by winning the right to vote in elections.

Given that I’d just voted in an election, the contrast seemed pretty stark.

Fewer people vote in mid-term elections (every two years) than in presidential election years (every four years).  An article in the Duke Chronicle noted that the early voting numbers for Duke students are “alarmingly low,” with less than one percent of Duke students casting ballots (compared with 91 percent who voted two years ago).

(more coming)

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About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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