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Leading article: Veils and votes

Sunday 25 September 2011 23:04 BST

As the tumultuous Arab Spring upset all around it, the vast Kingdom of Saudi Arabia seemed to sit calm and largely untroubled at the centre. That impression, it emerged yesterday, was misleading. Opening the new term of the Shura Council, King Abdullah announced that, as of next year, women will have the right to vote in municipal elections and stand for office. This falls well short of full equality, and there was no news on whether the ban on the totemic issue of women drivers would be lifted. But it represents startling, and welcome, progress in the very land where it seemed least likely.

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