Saudi Arabia has elected its first female local councillors in a historic step for a country where women are banned from driving and face routine discrimination. Results from Saturday’s municipal council elections indicated there were about 17 female winners. These included four in Jeddah, one near Mecca – home to Islam’s holiest site – and others in Tabuk, Ahsaa and Qatif. Several more, reported by al-Sabq online newspaper, were expected to be confirmed later. Rasha Hefzi, a prominent businesswoman who won a seat in Jeddah, thanked all those who supported her campaign and trusted her, pledging: “What we have started, we will continue.” Hefzi and other candidates used social media to contact voters because of restrictions on women meeting men and bans on both sexes using photographs.
Articles about voting issues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi women have won seats on municipal councils in a landmark election that allowed them to run for office and vote for the first time.
The official Saudi Press Agency said at least eight women who vied in Saturday’s election will be seated on local councils. Al Arabiya television reported at least 12. A total of 7,000 candidates, male and female, contested 2,100 seats. Official results are expected later Sunday. King Abdullah ordered the inclusion of women in municipal elections — the only nationwide vote in the absolute monarchy – before he died in January. He also named women to the 150-member Consultative Council and opened more areas of the labor market to them as part of a gradual easing of restrictions on their role in society and the economy.
Saudi Arabian women voted for the first time on Saturday in local council elections and also stood as candidates, a step hailed by some activists in the Islamic patriarchy as a historic change, but by others as merely symbolic. “As a first step it is a great achievement. Now we feel we are part of society, that we contribute,” said Sara Ahmed, 30, a physiotherapist entering a polling station in north Riyadh. “We talk a lot about it, it’s a historic day for us.” The election, which follows men-only polls in 2005 and 2011, is for two thirds of seats on councils that previously had only advisory powers, but will now have a limited decision making role in local government. This incremental expansion of voting rights has spurred some Saudis to hope the Al Saud ruling family, which appoints the national government, will eventually carry out further reforms to open up the political system.
Saudi Arabia: Saudi women are voting and running for office for the first time | The Washington Post
One candidate wants more recycling. A rival envisions community centers with day care. How about creating Western-style public libraries? asks another. These are hardly the rallying cries of revolutionaries. But, in the ultraconservative context of Saudi Arabia, such appeals are breaking new ground: They are coming from some of the more than 900 female candidates in the kingdom’s first nationwide election in which women are able to run — and vote. The balloting Saturday for municipal council seats across the kingdom — from Riyadh’s chaotic sprawl to oil-rich outposts — marks a cautious step forward in a nation where social change does not come easily. It must always pass muster through a ruling system that may be Western-allied but still answers to a religious establishment very wary of bold moves, particularly regarding the role of women. Women still cannot drive. They must receive a male guardian’s permission to travel abroad alone, and they face other daily reminders of Saudi Arabia’s strict brand of Islam and the state’s punishing stance against any open dissent. “Saudi Arabia has done a great PR job in selling these elections as part of much-touted reforms,” said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, a Washington-based political affairs group. “The reality is that not much changes.”
Hundreds of Saudi women began campaigning for public office on Sunday, in a first for women in the conservative kingdom’s slow reform process – even as two activists were disqualified. More than 900 women are standing alongside thousands of men in the 12 December municipal ballot, which will also mark the first time that women inSaudi Arabia are allowed to vote. “I’ve been eliminated as a candidate for the municipal elections,” Loujain Hathloul said in a message on Twitter. “I will be filing my objection via the appropriate channels.” Saudi authorities detained Hathloul for more than two months after she tried to drive into the kingdom last December from the United Arab Emirates, in defiance of a Saudi ban on women driving. She could not immediately be reached but earlier told Agence France-Presse that she wanted to run “to increase the percentage of women’s participation”.
At least 120 female candidates out of a total 1,019 running for Saudi Arabian municipal council elections have withdrawn their candidatures, according to the spokesman for the National Committee for Municipal Elections Jidai al-Qahtani who was quoted on Tuesday in Arabic daily al-Hayat. He said the total number of candidates stood at 7,380, but a total of 384 candidates have withdrawn. Fifty of the candidates who withdrew were from Riyadh. The last day for withdrawal in Riyadh was on Thursday 19 Nov. All remaining candidates are required to go through the fourth phase and campaign for their election.
They cannot post their portraits on campaign ads. They won’t be driving to campaign rallies. And they will have to pitch to men from behind screens to comply with strict segregation laws. This is electoral campaigning for women, Saudi style. The municipal poll on December 12 is the first time that women will vote and stand in a nationwide election, which is only the third voting experiment ever to be held in the conservative kingdom. It is, moreover, a partial election, with only half the seats up for grabs, the rest appointed. And, to top it all, the councils have limited authority. And yet, instead of frustration, I saw excitement in the faces of women running in the elections. For Saudi suffragettes, change comes at such a slow pace that every little step helps.
Saudi Arabian women standing for election will not be allowed to publish photographs of themselves or address men directly at campaign meetings. The government has published the list of the women who are standing in the local council elections next month. Women will be voting for the first time after they were granted limited voting rights in 2011 by the late King Abudullah. More than a 1,000 women have applied to become candidates for the election. But the candidates themselves are not too optimistic about their chances; the kingdom’s tight laws govern the separation of the sexes and make it hard to campaign.
When voter registration opened in August, few of Rana’s friends noticed, and the 25-year-old recent college graduate drew curious looks when she brought it up. None of them were planning to participate in Saudi Arabia’s Dec. 12 municipal elections — the first vote in which women will be allowed to stand as voters and candidates. “My friends know about the election, but they are not excited about it,” she recalled on an October afternoon from her office in a Jeddah PR company. “They didn’t register [to vote].” Rana had felt differently. Sure, it was a small step, and maybe little would come of it. But she was insistent. “We need women to get into this process,” she told her friends and family — and herself. “Women can do things for society.” But in Rana’s case, those things don’t include registering to vote. Rana ticked off the many obstacles she encountered. The window for registration was too brief, the documentation required too onerous, and her legal guardian — which all Saudi women require for even the most basic bureaucratic chores — wasn’t around to arrange her paperwork. And her family, inclined to think of politics as a man’s domain, discouraged her efforts.
Voting rights for Saudi women took another step forward this week. Female candidates began registering to run in upcoming municipal elections — and for the first time, women will be able to vote for them. Voter registration began in mid-August and goes through mid-September. Sunday marked the start of candidate registration for the Dec. 12 municipal elections. The developments came ahead of King Salman’s visit to the White House on Friday, when he and President Barack Obama are expected to discuss counterterrorism efforts, the conflicts in Yemen and Syria, and the Iran nuclear agreement.