Mixed reactions to Saudi move on women's vote

Mixed reactions to Saudi move on women's vote
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Human rights campaigners have welcomed the move by Saudi Arabia to give women the right to vote and stand in local elections.

It is being hailed as a breakthrough even though it will be four years before it takes effect, and other areas of discrimination remain in place.

For some, this first step will oblige Islamic conservatives to listen to voices other than their own.

“I think by these decisions Saudi women will be allowed for the first time in Saudi history since the establishment of Saudi Arabia to have a space for political participation,” said Dr Fawziyah Abu Khalid, a woman doing a PhD in Political Sociology at King Saud University in the capital Riyadh.

Women will also be eligible for appointment to the unelected advisory Shura Council.

King Abdullah is seen as a cautious reformer, sympathetic to women’s rights but anxious not to provoke a religious backlash.

The limited democracy makes some observers abroad mock the announcement.

“Honestly, I just thought at the beginning that it was a joke, because in a society like Saudi Arabia where no one has got any input into the politics, the reality is that it is a total dictatorship, and, you know, to give rights to women to vote… vote for what? You know, vote for who is going to run the local neighbourhood,” said Massoud Shadjareh of the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission.

Some see the move as a reaction to the Arab Spring. It has had little effect on the streets, but some Saudi women have begun taking a stand.

Discrimination remains rife. Women cannot take part in this week’s elections. Nor can they drive, travel abroad alone, or choose freely their own clothes.