Kathleen Parker

Political differences of degree seem to matter far less than the fact that a woman might become the leader of the free world. Those who were invited to the palace are, of course, sophisticated women of considerable means. Nevertheless, the frank talk in Saudi Arabia's royal parlors and in breast cancer clinics throughout the Middle East has a trickle-down effect.

Women's liberation through cancer is a hard sell, but change often evolves from pain. Bush's visit to these countries has been a boost for women hoping to gain traction amid ancient customs. Having the first lady join their circle carries a wallop in terms of moral support and influence, if not in immediate political results.

When Sulaiman asked Bush what she thought of Saudi women, the first lady answered with what even jaded reporters recognize as sincerity. Bush confessed to having had a stereotypical view of Saudi women and had assumed, given their head-to-toe coverings, that they would be difficult to communicate with. Instead, Bush said she felt "we have a sisterhood more than we would have thought between American women and Saudi women."

One of the Saudi women pointed to her black abaya and said, "These covers maybe are black, but they're transparent."

Later that day, after flying to Kuwait City, Bush met with a group of political women leaders at a salon called a (BEG ITAL)diwaniya(END ITAL). Some of the women ran for public office in June 2006, the first election in which women were allowed to vote after parliament granted women's suffrage.

No women won, but they did make a dent and are determined to defeat tribalism in Kuwait. As with all things in the Middle East, it's just a matter of time.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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