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Saudi Arabia's first female minister can't appear on TV without permission

Back in February, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah appointed Noura Al-Faiz as deputy minister for education, the highest post a woman has ever reached in Saudi government. The appointment was hailed far and wide as a sign of Saudi Arabia reforming its government and its stance of women's rights - TIME Magazine even named al-Faiz to its TIME 100. But perhaps that excitement came prematurely:

 

Noura al-Faiz today confounded advocates of greater equality when she said she could not appear on television without permission.

"I don't take my veil off and I will not appear on television unless it is allowed for us to do so," she told the daily Shams newspaper, which published a picture of Faiz wearing a headscarf with her face showing.

She also dismissed calls for girls to be allowed to do sport at school. "It's way too early," the paper reported her as saying[...]

At the time she said she was confident her appointment was not tokenism and that other women would be appointed to government jobs. Sceptics wondered, however, whether the new minister would wield any real power, or whether she would suffer the fate of other women who had been appointed to lower councils and sunk without trace.

Perhaps TIME should have reconsidered when they could not find a photo of her to use for their feature (Google only found a blurry picture of her photo in a Saudi paper).

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Obama effect in Lebanon?

So, it turns out that Lebanon's ruling pro-Western coalition managed to hang on to power, defeating a rival coalition that includes Hezbollah.

The editors over at HuffPo appear to credit this development to Obama's Thursday speech, blaring these headlines:

The Obama Effect? Pro-Western Majority Declares Victory Over Hezbollah In Lebanon

Early Test Of President's Efforts To Forge Middle East Peace

I hate to burst the bubble, but there's simply no evidence yet that Obama had any impact on the outcome. As Paul Salem explained Friday for FP, there were plenty of indications - such as the fact that it only ran 11 candidates -- that Hezbollah didn't really want to win and give up its cozy seat in the opposition. And further, it was Hezbollah's coalition partner, the mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, that seems to have underperformed expectations. In any case, the AP story on HuffPo flatly declares, "Obama's speech did not resonate in the election campaign."

Nor should we breathe a sigh of relief just yet. Now comes the ugly business of negotiating ministries, and it's likely that Hezbollah (whose power is measured in more than just parliamentary seats) will again demand a veto in a cabinet of "national unity" -- to the extent that such a thing exists in fractured Lebanon. It could be months of agonizing negotiations before a new government is formed.

The good news, of course, is that the Hezbollah-FPM coalition didn't win, which could have led to ugly recriminations, or worse, if the ruling Sunni-Druze-Christian alliance didn't accept the results. But I don't think we can chalk these results up to any "Obama effect" just yet, if ever.

UPDATE: Elias Muhanna weighs in:

Far more decisive, in my opinion, seems to have been: (1) the high turnout of Sunnis in Zahle — many of whom came from abroad — coupled with a low turnout of Christians; (2) strong feelings of antipathy towards Hizbullah by the Christians of Beirut who voted decisively for March 14th’s list in the district of Achrafieh; (3) some rare rhetorical blunders by Nasrallah in the past couple of weeks, calling the events of May 7th “a glorious day” for the resistance.

JOSEPH BARRAK/AFP/Getty Images