Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Friday, February 11, 2005

Little victories, a long road

by Senator Larry Craig
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty lately about the elections in Iraq, which were carried out under threat of terrorist attacks and with great media attention. And of course, last year, the first democratic elections in the history of Afghanistan were held and international observers gave the vote a clean bill of health.

Today, as I write, however, another election is taking place that has been largely overlooked. It is taking place in Saudi Arabia. Yes, that’s right, the same oil-rich country that was the homeland for fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11, and birthplace of Osama bin Laden. It is the beginning round of the first elections there in more than forty years.

In the city of Riyadh, the capital, voting has gotten underway to elect half of the city’s municipal council. More than 1,800 candidates have registered for just 127 seats, and the other half of the municipal council will be appointed by the Saudi government.

Clearly, nobody is going to call this an ideal election or the full embodiment of democracy in Saudi Arabia. Women were not allowed to vote or run for office, and only about 150,000 of the 600,000 eligible male voters registered. Only half of the municipal council will be chosen during the process, rather than the entire body. Also, it is not yet clear whether the elections were fair and free from corruption or tampering.

Let’s not lose perspective, though. As I mentioned, elections have not been held in this country in forty years. Some characterize the election as merely a response to pressure from the United States on the Saudi royal family to democratize. However, there have been growing calls from the Saudi people for democratic reforms and social liberalization. The royal family has voluntarily chosen this small move toward liberalization. This must be viewed as a very positive first step – a very small, perhaps imperfect step – but it is a step.

These elections must also be viewed through the larger lens of the Middle East region. Who would have thought that within a decade there would be free elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, or that Libya would have given up its nuclear weapons ambitions without firing a shot? We shouldn’t get too giddy about the meaning of these developments, because their outcomes are by no means certain. But we shouldn’t hesitate to put credit where it is due, either. Things are moving in the right direction.

A strong, dynamic United States foreign policy is beginning to yield results, I believe. The Bush Administration deserves to be applauded for what it has achieved. By aggressively pursuing terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has demonstrated that it means what it says. As a result, we have strengthened our hand and gained valuable flexibility when dealing with rogue nations that support terrorism or seek weapons of mass destruction.

Most important, we have planted the seeds of freedom in what was a barren region just a few years ago. Experts agree that in order to eradicate terrorism, we have to get rid of the conditions that breed discontent and radicalism. Fostering economic, social, and political freedom, then, is our best hope for success. The people of this region are beginning to understand these freedoms are closer than ever. It may be a long journey, and there will be moments of doubt and imperfection. But Americans can take heart that millions of people in the Middle East have begun to travel it, one ballot at a time.

NOTE: To link directly to the press release, please use the following link: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/ed021005a.htm.

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