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NEED TO KNOW:
Saudi Arabia has been getting a lot of heat lately.
It’s been criticized for its military campaign in Yemen, where airstrikes have hit everything from hospitals to weddings. It’s been accused of promoting religious extremism around the world. And the country has been called out for heinous human rights abuses at home, including a policy that favors the death penalty for even nonviolent offenses.
But in other small but significant ways, Saudi Arabia has made some positive changes. Over the weekend, for instance, Saudi women gained a little more independence. At least 17 women were elected to public office in the first vote that allowed female participation.
These were municipal elections, which means the women will have no lawmaking powers. But they will be representing local populations and many female activists were surprised that any women won at all.
It might seem like a small thing. But in a country where women are not allowed to drive or make even major life decisions without the approval of a male relative, the election was groundbreaking.
WANT TO KNOW:
In other elections news, the far right National Front party in France failed to win a single regional seat in weekend elections. Led by Marine Le Pen, the National Front promotes a xenophobic, anti-immigrant agenda.
Much of their agenda is rooted in efforts to combat terrorism. And it was feared that appeal for the ultra-conservative — some call it fascist — agenda of the National Front might grow after the Paris attacks in November that killed 130 people.
Like the rise of the Tea Party and now Donald Trump in the United States, the rise of the radical far right in Europe is one of the world’s more unnerving trends. A German city erupted in chaos over the weekend after a neo-Nazi party held a rally. These kinds of rallies happen a lot in Germany. Liberal activists responded with their own counter-protest. In the end it was the liberals who faced off with the police and their water cannons.
All over Europe, candidates supporting isolationist and protectionist policies — and who say outrageously racist things — are no longer considered fringe. Nowhere is this truer than in France. So Le Pen's loss was something of a surprise. However, her party's popularity with voters hasn't actually changed much.
STRANGE BUT TRUE:
An all-girl pop group from Korea was denied entry to the United States. Pop in Korea is called K-Pop, for those of you who don’t know. K-Pop is incredibly popular around the world, just one example of South Korea’s masterful campaign of soft power (remember "Gangnam Style"?).
The eight women of the group Oh My Girl (here’s one of their music videos) were sent back to South Korea, the group's agency rep says, on suspicion that they were not performers but sex workers. The representatives said that immigration officials searched their bags and paid “extra attention” to the outfits they had brought with them.
They also said that the immigration officials were suspicious because when asked what the relationship was between the women, they said they were “sisters.” It’s common for South Korean friends to refer to themselves as sisters. For American border security, it was probably just another thing that didn’t add up.
But customs officials denied that suspicion of sex work was a factor, saying the issue was that the group didn’t have the right credentials for visiting performers. The pop artists were traveling on tourist visas. "We were doing what we do every day," a customs official told the Los Angeles Times. "We send people back all the time."