Saudi King Abdullah Bin Adbulziz al-Saudi made a historic announcement on Sunday as he addressed the Shoura Council. Having considered the council’s recommendation
that women be allowed to vote in the Kingdom, he has now ruled that women will have a right to join in municipal elections. However his decision will not pass until after Thursday’s municipal elections.
reported that King Abdullah said in his speech,
"Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama (clerics) and others... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term.” He added "Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote."
Saudi women have long demanded the right to vote and previous promises to allow them to do so have not been kept. Despite a recommendation in 2005 that paved the way for women to vote, the election commissioner said in March 2011
“Saudi Arabia is not yet ready for women to participate in the upcoming municipal elections,” Al Arabaiya
reported earlier this year. If the changes promised today go ahead it will be a truly historic move within the Kingdom.
Even with the vote women will remain second class citizens until the law is changed to allow them to travel, work and marry without the permission of a male guardian. Increasingly vocal, women are also calling for the right to drive and to fly, and to be responsible for hiring their own housemaids.
King Abdullah’s announcement will go some way to satisfy unrest within the Kingdom which has been ongoing this year, particularly within the Shiite population which is ruled by the Sunni Saud’s. The waves of change which other Arab countries have experienced were soon quelled within Saudi when the Interior Ministry announced that all forms of protest were categorically forbidden as they contradict Sahria law. The State of Emergency
which was declared in anticipation of the planned March 9 protests effectively suppressed voices of dissent.