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.”

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