Women in Saudi Arabia to vote and run in elections

 
Saudi seamstresses in a factory in Jeddah (file picture) Saudi women face severe restrictions in their working and personal lives

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Women in Saudi Arabia are to be given the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, King Abdullah has announced.

He said they would also have the right to be appointed to the consultative Shura Council.

The move was welcomed by activists who have called for greater rights for women in the kingdom, which enforces a strict version of Sunni Islamic law.

The changes will occur after municipal polls on Thursday, the king said.

King Abdullah announced the move in a speech at the opening of the new term of the Shura Council - the formal body advising the king, whose members are all appointed.

"Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior clerics and others... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from next term," he said.

"Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote."

Cautious reformer

Analysis

Saudi Arabia is a conservative society which has been inching towards reform under the leadership of King Abdullah, himself a reformist.

About 10 years ago the king said women should be central to the Saudi economy. Since then, change has been gradual for fear of a religious backlash.

Steps have been taken to reduce segregation and give more respect to women. Now, allowing women to stand and vote in municipal elections is a big step towards political reform, even though the municipal councils have very little power.

The right for women to join the all- male Shura Council could turn out to be even more significant as it is the most influential political body in the country.

The BBC's world affairs correspondent Emily Buchanan says it is an extraordinary development for women in Saudi Arabia, who are not allowed to drive, or to leave the country unaccompanied.

She says there has been a big debate about the role of women in the kingdom and, although not everyone will welcome the decision, such a reform will ease some of the tension that has been growing over the issue.

Saudi writer Nimah Ismail Nawwab told the BBC: "This is something we have long waited for and long worked towards."

She said activists had been campaigning for 20 years on driving, guardianship and voting issues.

Another campaigner, Wajeha al-Huwaider, said the king's announcement was "great news".

"Now it is time to remove other barriers like not allowing women to drive cars and not being able to function, to live a normal life without male guardians," she told Reuters news agency.

Correspondents say King Abdullah has been cautiously pressing for political reforms, but in a country where conservative clerics and some members of the royal family resist change, liberalisation has been very gradual.

In May more than 60 intellectuals called for a boycott of Thursday's ballot saying "municipal councils lack the authority to effectively carry out their role".

Municipal elections are the only public polls in Saudi Arabia.

More than 5,000 men will compete in municipal elections on Thursday - the second-ever in the kingdom - to fill half the seats in local councils. The other half are appointed by the government.

The next municipal elections are due in four years' time.

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 478.

    Gosh, that letter I sent to the Saudi Embassy really did the trick!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 477.

    474. Snowgoosebc
    Wonderful news!!! The bright spot in a sucking ooze of looming bank bailouts..
    ====

    Very prosaic but didn't you know we've already done that? This post's about Women's Lib in Saudi Arabia

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 476.

    473. WiseOldBob
    337.matt-stone

    "Who was it that enslave blacks in the colonies?"

    Nobody has a monopoly on despicable behaviour it seems. . . .
    ===

    I beg to differ and would refer you to the history of the 20th Century as a pretty good starting point.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 475.

    470. bornequal
    ====

    What have barbarians ever done to you? If you bone up on your ancient history you'll discover that so-called barbarians were a lot more egalitarian than their modern day UK counterparts. The term 'barbarian' refers to the snotty condescending Roman reference to the sounds of the language of non Latin speakers not their sophistication, many became emperors after all.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 474.

    Wonderful news!!! The bright spot in a sucking ooze of looming bank bailouts..

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 473.

    337.matt-stone

    "Who was it that enslave blacks in the colonies?"

    Interestingly enough it was for the most part their fellow blacks, who rounded native tribesfolk up and sold them on to the British (and others). Nobody has a monopoly on despicable behaviour it seems. . . .

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 472.

    Obviously the vote means little or nothing in Arabia or it wouldn't have been given. IMO

    How about starting with 'respect'.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 471.

    378.Sixth Dimention
    ====

    And do you also believe in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy by any chance? I'm really hoping that your post was drawing heavily on irony, please say you were.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 470.

    I am shocked and disgusted that in this day and age people (and reading from the comments, men in particular) still view women in this way.... that a HUMAN BEING can only do/say/have something depending the gender you are born. I know the world is not perfect but I thought we were past being barbarians.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 469.

    This is only being implemented/highlighted because the rulers are running scared of the Arab spring uprising. This is the most autocratic regime and sooner the people rise up and deal with them the better.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 468.

    378.Sixth Dimention

    "The real reason Saudi Arabia did not allow women to vote is because they are a physical part of man, therefore already voting in one body. Women alone are considered vulnerable to ideological manipulations, needing man to guide and protect them. . ."

    Brilliant! Luckily men aren't vulnerable to ideological manipulations so everything's all right then. . .

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 467.

    It's a start, albeit disingenuous, what difference it will make with the elite triumvirate political landscape in Saudi is not clear. I have difficulty in seeing what real change can be achieved in the short/medium term but the concession should not be mocked & belittled by the west, our 'so called' democracy didn't occur overnight did it? So give it a chance before all the nay-saying commences.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 466.

    I like the idea of women being alloved to vote in an absoulute autocracy: the generosity of the ruling despots knows no bounds! Next thing you know they'll ve smoking at the opera. . .

  • Comment number 465.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 464.

    Wonderful. A first step towards democracy. Before too long they'll be hankering after the other advantages of liberal western democracies.

    Before you know it they'll have drunken youths fighting on the Corniche in Jeddah on Thursday nights and unwed mothers pushing their foul-mouthed children to under-funded sink estate schools.

  • Comment number 463.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 462.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 461.

    We live in a man's world, especially in these third world countries. Women should not get the vote as their views don't matter in Arabia anyway. They are happy as they are just leave them alone to get on with it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 460.

    Confused about the comment 'change doesn't happen overnight'. But it does in an absolute monarchy. Like when they closed all the cinemas in KSA.

    And how much time must elapse to do the RIGHT THING?

    Not rocket science here guys. Just basic decent respectful human rights.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 459.

    This is just a calculated move to placate any insurrectional pangs following the events of late, and four years is more than enough time to contrive some esoteric counter-interpretation of the scriptures.

    Anyway, women already have the same rights as men to have their vote stolen, misrepresented and devalued, so why don’t they address the main problem here - theocracy.

 

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