A change of dramatic proportions is looking increasingly possible in the electoral future of Saudi Arabia. In a sweeping turnaround from the officially declared position in April of this year, the Shoura Council has passed a recommendation to give Saudi women the right to vote. According to Asharq Alawsat
, the recommendation has now been sent to Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz for approval.
Although the recommendation does not allow Saudi women to stand for election, it is the first step in allowing them to vote under the auspices of Shariah law. Dr. Abdulrahman al-Enad of the Shoura Council and the Saudi National Association for Human Rights, told Asharq Alawsat
that there is no specific time frame involved and the recommendation is only advisory. Nevertheless he described the council decision as “historic” and said it was an important message from the Shura Council
“in conveying the pulse of the Saudi street and the people’s desire for women to be allowed to participate in the municipal council elections.”
The process of change has been a slow one. In 2005 it was recommended that women should have the right to participate in elections. However in April 2011 Alarbiya
reported the Saudi Election Commissioner made the position clear when he said
“Saudi Arabia is not yet ready for women to participate in the upcoming municipal elections.”
Despite this women have been protesting their right to vote. Muslim Media Watch
reported that women have arrived at voter registration offices to stake their rights, though they have not been well received. Locals have flung insults at them, calling them “whore” and “attention seekers.”
In addition to being denied the right to vote Saudi women also suffer many other restrictions. They are not allowed to work, travel or marry without the permission of a male guardian. Nor are they allowed to drive despite an ongoing campaign to change the law that has been running this year and has resulted in several arrests. Segregation of the sexes remains in place with the populace at the mercy of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.
Much depends now on the how King Abdullah handles the recommendation from the Shoura Council. It is hoped that a decision can be reached soon rather than the issue being swept under the royal carpet in a further denial of women rights.