Speaker Samaan


"For the first time in the Arab world," reports the BBC, "a woman has chaired a parliamentary session. . . ." It happened this week in Bahrain, unplanned. Bahrain's usual parliamentary speaker and his two deputies were all absent, which meant that the speaker's role went to the most senior member present. That was one Alees Samaan, originally from Iraq (and also a Christian), who was appointed to the parliament five years ago by Bahrain's king.

Samaan approached the speaker's chair to "warm applause," according to press accounts. When the session ended a few hours later, "colleagues were said to have rushed to the podium to have their pictures taken with her."

"[W]hat is really remarkable about the story," writes the Beeb's Arab Affairs analyst, Magdi Abdelhadi, "is the significance attributed by the [Arab] press to the episode. Incidents of this kind in the Arab world are increasingly being seen as signs of a gradual change towards more open and democratic societies in the entire region."

A recent study found that "The number of women members of parliament in the Arab world has almost doubled in the last five years," to 6.5 percent of the region's MPs, according to a BBC report in March. "Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco contributed most" to that rise, "but the trend should continue thanks to the recent Iraqi elections."