‘Women will have the right to vote’ says Saudi King

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia annnounced this week that because the government “refuse[s] to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with shari’a“, women would be granted the right to vote and to stand for elected office after Thursday’s municipal elections.

While many human rights activists see this as a milestone for womens’ rights in a country that does not allow women to drive or to travel abroad without a male guardian, critcs have pointed out what they believe to be an “essentialy meaningless” gesture.

Ed Husain, writing for The Atlantic is one such critic. While applauding the overall reforms which the moderate King Abdullah has introduced, he critized the grant of women’s suffrage as token, as little more than “promises of voting in four years’ time”.

Others point to the undemocratic nature of Saudi Arabia’s government. Above the municipal level, few positions are elected. Instead, most national-level offices are filled by appointment, and, as a result, the government of Saudi Arabia is, as a rule, conservative and loyal to the Royal Family’s interests, rather than that of the country.

The Shura Council, to which women are now eligible to be appointed and before which King Abdullah made his decree, is one such body. As an absolute monarchy, Saudi Arabia has no elected parliament. The Shura Council, formally the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, fills this role, but it is staffed entirely by royal appointees and holds no real legislative power (instead holding certain powers of legislative review and budget oversight). In Saudi Arabia, only the King may pass laws and it is the King who enforces them.

It is difficult to say, however, that this change is completely token: through this move, Saudi Arabia becomes the latest Muslim-majority nation to grant women suffrage. Hopefully, this is the first of many such reforms which may, in time, serve to soften the country’s image on the world stage and bring it further into line with international opinion on human rights.

-Sebastian Bates, World News Correspondent


Posted by on October 2, 2011. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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