Saudi Women Granted Political Rights

By Shane P. Donnelly

Earlier in the week, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced that Saudi women would soon be granted the right to vote and run in elections for the Shura Council, a group of advisors to the king and the only elected body in the Saudi government. While elections for the Shura are scheduled to begin this Thursday, King Abdullah’s amendments will not go into effect until next year, meaning women will not be able to exercise their new rights until the next municipal elections scheduled to take place in 2015. Some intellectuals have claimed the Shura is corrupt and lacks legitimate political power. They are calling for a boycott of this week’s elections and demanding economic and political reform in the government.

Since ascending to the throne in 2005, King Abdullah has introduced several reforms to the traditionally static monarchy, but he continually faces opposition from members of the royal family and conservative Sunni clerics who believe in a strict interpretation of Sharia law that excludes women’s participation in everyday society. In anticipation of opposition, King Abdullah claimed his decision to grant political rights to women falls within Sharia law and is representative of real Islam.

Some activists have suggested the king’s reforms were influenced by gradually growing grassroots women’s movements that began in June as part of the protests that spread throughout the Arab world earlier this year.

Although law currently forbids it, Saudi women have begun driving automobiles. Police have apparently been ordered not to intervene so the public can become used to the image.

Earning rights is becoming more of a reality for women in Saudi Arabia. This is evidenced by reports that King Abdullah has unofficially revoked the sentencing of a woman to 10 lashings for driving.

Activists expect to make significant progress in women’s rights in the next couple of years.



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