The American Interest

News media take heed: Tunisia, not Saudi Arabia, is where Arab Muslim women are truly advancing

News media take heed: Tunisia, not Saudi Arabia, is where Arab Muslim women are truly advancing

So the Saudi monarchy has indicated it will allow the kingdom’s women to drive. And the international media has mostly applauded (with notable exceptions) what elsewhere around the globe has long been a given.

As “Weekend Update” co-host Michael Che joked on “Saturday Night Live,” Saudi Arabia’s announcement barely beat out allowing vehicles to drive themselves.

Understand that I'm not dismissing the Saudi decision as entirely meaningless, because it's not. For now, however, it amounts to little more than a Band-Aid. I'll say more about this below.

But first, let's take a look at what's been happening in Tunisia, where the news about Muslim women has received less coverage than the Saudi story — even though its of potentially far greater significance for women in the Arab Muslim world.

Events in Tunisia sparked the 2011 Arab Spring, which largely failed elsewhere — disastrously so in Syria and Yemen — but did succeed in Tunisia. What’s happening there now led one New York Times op-ed writer to wonder optimistically whether a second Arab Spring focused on women’s rights just might be in the wind.

If so, let’s hope it ends far better than the first one.

The latest bit of underplayed Tunisian news is the North African nation’s decision to allow its Muslim women to legally marry non-Muslim men without the grooms having to convert to Islam ahead of the wedding.

That's huge in the Arab world because it speaks to the core of Islam’s self-understanding, whereas the Saudi driving story is more about local cultural and political arrangements.

Here’s how the BBC covered the story. The following graphs get to the meat of the issue.

Many Tunisians see the removal of the marriage restriction as another landmark in guaranteeing women's freedom in the country.

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