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Saudi Women Given The Right To Vote In 2015

Saudi women have been given the right to vote but not until 2015.

Saudi women have been given the right to vote, but not until 2015.

Saudi Arabia has taken a step towards increasing women’s rights.  In an annual speech before the Shura advisory council last Sunday, Saudi’s King Abdullah announced reforms that would give women the right to vote and to run in municipal elections. He also announced that in the future, women would be appointed to the Shura council.  “Muslim women in our Islamic history have demonstrated positions that expressed correct opinions and advice,” said the king.  These new rights would allow women to play a role in the legislative and executive branches of state.

While the announcement was praised by the United States, many questioned the delay before the changes will be enacted.  Although there are local elections scheduled for this Thursday, women will have to wait another four years before casting their first votes.  “Why not tomorrow?” asked Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Hawaidar. “I think the king doesn’t want to shake the country, but we look around us and we think it is a shame … when we are still pondering how to meet simple women’s rights.”

One of the more basic rights still denied to Saudi women is the right to drive their cars.   The men-only driving rule is not officially legislated, but it is enforced through the pressure of fatwas, or religious edicts, and has the support of authorities.  In June, Saudi women launched a campaign against the rule, getting behind the wheel and driving through cities.  Authorities detained several female drivers, and at least one female activist, Najalaa Harrir, will be brought to trial for defying the ban.  Harrir drove her car through Jeddah in support of the “My Right, My Dignity” and “Women2Drive” campaigns.  Her driving was filmed for a television show.

Saudi Arabia is not the only Arab nation demanding greater social freedoms.  On December 18, 2010, a revolution in Tunisia triggered uprisings across the Arab world, and more than 11 other Arabic countries experienced major protests or civil uprisings since then.  Together, the revolutions have been called the Arab Spring, and the voting reforms announced by King Abdullah are thought to be preemptive measures to prevent widespread unrest in his country.  “Balanced modernization, which falls within our Islamic values, is an important demand in an era where there is no place for defeatist or hesitant people,” he said.

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