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”.
Nassima al-Sadah, a human rights activist and would-be candidate in the Gulf coast city of Qatif, said officials informed her late on Saturday that her name had been removed from the list. “I don’t know why,” said Sadah, who was trained in electioneering by the National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based non-profit organisation. Her campaign was on hold as she tried to clarify her case.
Ruled by King Salman, the oil-rich state has no elected legislature but has faced intense western scrutiny over its human rights record. The country’s first municipal elections were held in 2005, followed by another vote in 2011, but in both cases only men were allowed to participate.
“We will vote for the women even though we don’t know anything about them,” Um Fawaz, a teacher in her 20s, said in Hafr al-Batin city. “It’s enough that they are women.”