Poll bodes well for future of women’s empowerment in the Arab world

Saudi racing driver Aseel Al-Hamad presents a trophy to Lewis Hamilton. (AFP)
Updated 09 December 2019

Poll bodes well for future of women’s empowerment in the Arab world

  • YouGov study shows 59 percent support women holding ministerial roles in the region
  • GCC countries are a prime example of women excelling in every arena, says expert

DUBAI: Women’s empowerment in the Arab world has a bright future, if the findings of a YouGov study commissioned by Arab News for the Arab Strategy Forum are any guide.
Several recent regional developments — women driving in Saudi Arabia and an increase in the number of women holding ministerial roles in the Arab world — are viewed by substantial numbers of Arabs as positive.
A combined average of 61 percent said they expect to see more female empowerment in their home country over the next 10 years. This thinking was strongest in the Levant at 60 percent, followed by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with 48 percent and 44 percent in North Africa.
The study surveyed 3,079 Arabic speakers, aged 18 years old and above, from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to better understand their current and future concerns on various topics.
June 24, 2018, will go down in history as the day Saudi Arabia lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. Two-thirds of the poll respondents actively supported the Kingdom’s new driving law, with only nine per cent expressing opposition.
Commenting on women’s standing in the MENA region, Maria Al-Qassimi, an Emirati writer, said recent decades had witnessed a movement led by Arab women to redefine social norms through a call for “equal opportunities and less restrictive laws.”
Despite the rapid speed of policy changes, Al-Qassimi says she wishes to see further progress in the standing of women in Arab societies.



“I hope that policies and regulations will be revised to allow both men and women to strike a balance between their responsibilities and contributions both at home and at work,” she told Arab News.
Al-Qassimi believes that the situation of women and other “vulnerable” segments of society as of now is largely determined by economic factors.
If women continued to play an important role in driving Arab economies forward while demonstrating their “indispensability” on the global level, countries would have an incentive to enlarge women’s empowerment, she said.
Al-Qassimi said there was no doubt that governments around the Arab world were recognizing the need for women’s empowerment in building stronger economies and societies. However, a change in social attitudes may require more time.


Al-Qassimi cited the GCC states as a prime example of women’s excellent performance in almost every field. In the UAE, women make up 70 percent of all university graduates, and hold 66 percent of all public-sector jobs, she said.
In Saudi Arabia, the number of women working in the public and private sectors has increased by “282 percent” over the past year. “The hope is not only for women to occupy more leadership positions, but to push for more merit-based career advancements across the GCC,” Al-Qassimi said.
Women holding ministerial roles in the Arab region is a development that gained strong support from respondents, with 59 percent expressing positive sentiment, as opposed to 14 percent who were negative.
Among those expecting to see an even greater increase in the number of Arabs supporting women’s empowerment in the next two years is Injeel Firoz Moti, managing director at Catch Communications, an agency that works with female entrepreneurs in the UAE and across the GCC.
“One advancement I see taking place is the rise of more women in the workforce as well as growth of the female entrepreneur,” said Moti, who foresees more women taking up leadership roles and driving operations in the labor force.
Moti described women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia, including the new driving law and the modification of the public dress code, as “setting a precedent” for further positive changes.
This was supported by the poll’s findings on a woman’s right to choose what to wear: 52 percent of respondents expressed positive sentiments.
Women of the Arab world have made great strides in breaking away from “centuries-old gender norms and traditions,” one of which is freedom of appearance, according to Al-Qassimi.
“What women wear is unfortunately not a physical representation and expression of who they are, but of the honor and chastity of their immediate and extended families,” she said.
The poll also showed 24 percent of respondents selected one of two options — “prefer not to answer” or “neither agree or disagree” — when asked about the topic of women’s clothing.
Al-Qassimi said some Arab societies “respond to emotions of fear and shame,” which she believes could be the reason many respondents in the survey disagreed with the freedom of appearance or chose not to give an opinion.
Other questions in the survey dealt with topics such as forced marriage and honor crimes. The findings suggest that 77 percent of the Arab world disagree with the practice of forced marriage, with 67 percent of respondents strongly opposed to it.
“Given the rate at which our societies are evolving, with time more value will hopefully be given to the individual and the choices he or she makes,” Al-Qassimi said.

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”