Saudi Arabia Elections Now Open to Women

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( — December 22, 2015) — For the first time in Saudi Arabia, last week women were allowed to vote. This is a very important breaking point for Saudi Arabia to have an election open for both female voters and candidates. Although Western analysts are sceptical about these elections, for Saudi Arabia it is a significant progress. It may appears to be slow, but it is still progress.

Princess Basmah Bint Saud, former King Saud’s daughter said, “It is symbolic that women have been put on the stage and asked to perform publicly, and that sends a very strong message on its own”.

Tariq Al-Maeena, Saudi socio-political commentator also regards these elections as a milestone in his country’s political life and says, “As one who is usually critical, I do not think it was done to appease critics, but to follow directives of the late King. I believe that the tide for change was initiated during King Abdullah’s reign, and women’s empowerment has become a reality on many fields. This is one of them”.

It seems that King Abdullah introduced some novelties when it comes to women’s public life in the last few years of his reign; women were allowed to study togehter with men at the universities abroad; they were permitted to enter professions which were traditionally reserved for men, like engineering, journalism or law; 30 women were appointed by the King in the kingdom’s formal advisory body called Shura Council, and last but not least, within the education ministry, he established a new women’s affair department and appointed a woman to lead it.

The guardian system in Saudi Arabia was actually to blame for women not taking part in elections, among other things, because women were required to get approval of her male guardian for anything she wanted to do or have. This means that if they wanted to get educated or get married, if they wanted to get a passport and travel, their male blood relative or a husband was the one to give permission for any of her needs.

Fahad Nazer, a political analyst emphasised the fact that was ignored by most of the Western media, “The fact that 21 women actually won seats is a testament to the hard work that many Saudi women and men have put into raising awareness about the importance of participating in the elections and suggests that an institution that was once seen as alien or foreign to the Saudi political lexicon has garnered wide acceptance”. he said.

It appears that even the guardian system is going to be less firm than before, but these changes are going to happen gradually. There is a new law which permits divorcees and widows to apply for family identity cards, which means that children will be enrolled to schools or go through medical procedures by their mother’s request, things that were until recently unthinkable without the gardian’s approval.

These changes were not and will not be welcomed by all Saudis, but in time they might be seen and considered as the process of progress and advancement.

Princess Basmah did not take part in the elections herself, but she is of the opinion that the change is not just up to men any more. She said, “There are a lot of other issues at hand, families, traditions, even some women themselves. They have to get used to the change. You don’t just hand someboly a parachute and tell them to jump”.