Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has granted women the right to vote in the kingdom. But in a nation where elected officials carry little power, does it even matter?
Bloomberg reports on Abdullah's decision, announced yesterday on state television. The King said, "We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society in every field of work. Women have the right to submit their candidacy for municipal council membership and have the right to take part in submitting candidates in accordance with Shariah." Granting women the right to vote and hold municipal office is part of a larger campaign by the King to improve women's status. He has also said women can now serve on his advisory council. Says Ibrahim al- Mugaiteeb of the Human Rights First Society, "We hope that with Saudi women going to the municipal council, they will be able to drive in the future."
However, not everyone in Saudi Arabia is pleased with the news. Activist Mohammed al-Qahtani thinks giving the women the right to vote is a way for the King to hide the lack of true democracy in his country:
The issue of women is the easy way out, because it can polish the regime's reputation in the world. People could have gotten the message that they will be enfranchised into the political system. That did not happen.
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In 2010, The Economist rated Saudi Arabia the seventh most authoritarian regime in the world — the country is a monarchy whose national legislature, to date, has been appointed rather than elected. The municipal councils, for which men and women can now vote, reportedly have "little power." So while it's important not to forget the rights of women in a larger quest for democracy, voting rights aren't worth much if voting means nothing.
King Abdullah Gives Saudi Women Right To Vote For First Time [Bloomberg, via SF Gate]