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Middle East france 24

Women register to run for election in a first for Saudi Arabia

© Fayez Nureldine, AFP | Saudi women wait for their drivers outside a shopping mall in Riyadh on September 26, 2011 a day after King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2015-08-31

Saudi women registered to run in municipal elections for the first time in the country’s history on Sunday, just one week after voter registration was opened to women in another first for the ultraconservative kingdom.

Women have limited rights in Saudi Arabia, which adheres to a strict interpretation of sharia law. They are not allowed to drive, and are required to obtain consent from a male guardian if they want to travel, work, apply for a passport or marry.

But women’s suffrage has been a long time coming. The late King Abdullah in 2011 granted women the right to vote and to run for electoral office as of 2015, declaring: “We refuse to marginalise women's role in Saudi society."

Saudi-funded newspaper Al-Hayat reported earlier this month that around 200 women had expressed interest in running as candidates in the country’s municipal elections, which are due to take place on December 12.

Candidate registration is to run until September 17, while voter registration ends on September 14.

Out of 1,263 polling stations in 284 municipalities across the monarchy, 424 have been reserved for women voters.

"I am very excited to take part in this new experience," said Amal Mohammed, a 35-year-old woman as she registered to vote in the port city of Jeddah.

Abdullah, who died in January, introduced municipal elections to Saudi Arabia in 2005 when he was crown prince.

This year, two-thirds of municipal council members will be elected and the rest appointed by the authorities. In the last all-male vote in 2011, half of the members were elected.

Municipal councils are to be granted financial and administrative independence to encourage "participation of citizens in decision-making on matters that affect their daily lives", said Jadee al-Qahtani, local elections committee spokesman.

However, many young men in Saudi Arabia remain sceptical.

"I know nothing about these elections and I'm not planning to take part," Majed al-Harbi, 25, told AFP. "What did these councils achieve for our cities? All they do is make promises."

In February 2013, Abdullah also for the first time named women to the country's Shura Council, an all-appointed consultative body.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2015-08-30

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