Saudi Arabia introduces voting rights for women

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Veiled Saudi women take photos of their children during a ceremony to celebrate Saudi Arabia's Independence Day in Riyadh September 23, 2009. Reuters/Fahad Shadeed

Jamal Al-Saadi and Safinaz Abu Al-Shamat are the first two women in the history of Saudi Arabia to become registered female voters of the country last week. They will now be able to cast their votes in the upcoming third municipal elections in Makkah and Medina.

“The participation of the Saudi women in the municipal elections as voters and candidates was a dream for us,” Saadi said. “The move will enable Saudi women to have a say in the process of the decision-making.”

Only a few women, including an 18-year-old, have been registered in Makkah and Medina as the process began a week earlier in these two holy cities. Registration counters in the rest of the country opened on Saturday, and from August 30, the candidates will begin to sign up. Voting centres for men and women will be separate.

The two proud women said that they had come for the registration completely prepared with all the necessary documents so that everything would go smoothly and nothing could stop them from voting in the upcoming elections. “I was quite ready for this day,” Saadi said. “I have prepared all the documents needed to obtain a voter's card. This is a nice experience to go through. We are just at the beginning of the road.”

The Saudi Gazette reported Shamat as saying that she was the first woman to arrive for the registration and the first one to get registered as well. She made sure she reached early since she did not want any delay in the process of registration.

In 2011, now-late King Abdullah declared that women would be able to vote and apply for candidature from 2015. It has been a long wait for the women but a glorious outcome nonetheless. In Saudi Arabia, it is only the municipal election in which citizens allowed to cast their votes and choose a candidate. However under the monarchy, the elected candidates have limited power. The number of seats in the municipality for the elected candidates will increase from half to two thirds this year.

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