Saudi king racing to reform his kingdom
For years the pace of reform in Saudi Arabia has reflected what seemed to be denial. Change has been almost imperceptibly slow, like a dune moving across the desert, even as the kingdom's festering problems nourished extremism. In the past few weeks, however, things have suddenly accelerated as the king has moved to show the ultraconservative Saudi religious establishment quite literally who's boss. He sacked the head of the feared religious police and the minister of justice, appointed Nora al-Fayez as deputy education minister, making her the highest-ranking female official in the country's history, and moved to equalize the education of women and men under the direction of a favored son-in-law who has been preparing for years to modernize the nation's school system."Abdullah waited," says Robert Lacey, who wrote"The Kingdom," the classic 1981 study of Saudi Arabia, and is now working on a sequel."He bided his time until it was appropriate for him to make the changes he wanted." Whatever the reason, the 85-year-old monarch has begun acting like a leader whose vision is becoming clear just as time is running short.
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