/ 26 April 2011

Saudi women seek voting rights

Sara Abbar knew what would happen when she and her 28-year-old daughter tried to register to vote in Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections.

The vote, set for September, ruled out in advance any participation by the country’s 9-million women.

“We will keep trying again and again until we get our right,” she said after meeting a resolute “no” from the election official she encountered at a voter registration centre in Jeddah when registration began on April 23.

“The demand for our rights should never be postponed so we will continue calling for them.”

The municipal council elections, only the second such experiment in more than 40 years, highlight the contradictions that arise when an absolute monarchy rooted in austere religious authority dabbles in democracy.

The kingdom allows no political parties or an elected Parliament. Religious police patrol the streets to enforce segregation of the sexes and ensure women are modestly dressed.

Its government announced in March it would hold polls for half the seats in municipal councils, but ruled out female candidates or voters. Local officials cited logistical difficulties arranging sex-segregated polling stations.

The decision sparked a campaign which Abbar and her daughter have joined called Baladi, Arabic for “my country”, organised by women activists on Facebook and Twitter, to show up at polling stations around the kingdom and demand their right to vote. — Reuters