20080115 bush in saudi arabia 78934338 18
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud walks with U.S. President George W. Bush after dinner at the Riyadh Palace in the Saudi capital. - 


Scott Jagow: President Bush is in Saudi Arabia today.
He's hoping to shore up Arab support against Iran and push forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Human rights are also on the agenda. Saudia Arabia is supposedly overhauling its judicial system. And that came about because of economic pressure. Kelly McEvers explains.

Kelly McEvers: If I wrote you a bad check in Saudi Arabia, you'd have no recourse against me in court. That's because courts are run by men of the cloth who apply a strict form of Islam.

In their minds, banks and insurance companies have no rights in court, says political analyst Tawfiq Al Saif:

Tawfiq Al Saif: If it is not recognized as legitimate, how can an economy run?

That's the question investors started asking in 2005, when Saudi Arabia joined the WTO. Now, King Abdullah has promised to spend nearly $2 billion to create separate courts for criminal, civil, and commercial cases, and a supreme court that can overrule zealous judges.

But Tawfiq Al Saif wonders how quickly these reforms will be implemented.

Al Saif: Simply because the people who are assigned to implement them are themselves part of the problem.

Al Saif says many Saudis welcome pressure from the U.S. to help speed up the reform process.

I'm Kelly McEvers for Marketplace.