Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Women to Vote in Saudi Arabia

Women can now vote in Saudi.

Or can they?

Glenn read the article online, in the Arab News, the paper we call 'The Green Truth'.

'RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announced Sunday that Saudi women would be allowed to stand and vote in municipal elections and also become members of the Shoura Council.'

Hubby's reaction was mixed.
My reaction was....doubtful.

Not because this is bad news. It's great.  Saudi Women voting in municipal elections and Saudi Women on the Shoura Council.  Awesome.

It's just that Saudi is a dictatorship monarchical regime.
High level government positions are filled by royal appointment.

Municipal voting has only taken place in Saudi every 30 years, give or take.  Sure the King has said 2015 is the big year for Saudi women....but will he still be around then? Will his replacement - who by the way cannot be voted in by the general populace -  hold fast to this decree?  Will any moves have been made to ensure female voting is a reality by that time.

I gather the conservatives aren't that keen and they have this way of being....annoying.  You can bet they'll be playing power games over the next few years to make sure this vote doesn't go ahead.  And though the current head of Shoura is happy to support the Kings announcement, should women actually get on to the council I have this niggling feeling conservatives will ensure conditions are put in place to limit women's effectiveness. 

Maybe I'm being unnecessarily negative but if there's one thing I've learnt about Saudi Arabia it's that what Saudi says, Saudi either doesn't or is extremely, extremely slow to come through with in practice. (Just look at the driving issue!)

I do admit to being more interested, and hopeful, about women on the Shoura Council as from 2013 than voting because the council is more active (845 sessions held and 1174 declarations issued between 2005 - 2009) than the countries voting history (grand total of 3 elections).

What is the Shoura Council?

Shoura Council
The Shoura Council is a group of individuals (currently all men) who are appointed by, and who discuss issues and make recommendations to, the king.  They are an advisory council so their powers are limited.  Part of their role is to propose draft laws, though only the king can pass the law.  They can interpret laws and advise the King on any policies, international treaties and economic plans.  They also get to review the national budget.

I understand there are currently 150 men on the council who spread themselves around 12 committees.   Coming from a Runanga (word for tribal organisation) with 15 on their board who can never agree on anything, I'd be interested to know how 150 come to consensus decisions.

How many women will make it onto the council is currently unknown.   Will it be 50/50?  Will they only be able to participate in meetings via closed circuit television because gender mixing is a no-no like the current, and only, female government Deputy Minister for Education, leaving the boys to their own private party?  Time will tell.

The Kings speech talked about refusing to "marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Shariah".

I'm guessing he's referring to the future because Saudi's present is full of women being marginalized in roles that, as far as I can tell, though of course I'm no expert, comply with Shariah, the code of law derived from the Quran and the teachings and example of Mohammed.

The future should be bright for Saudi women who can look forward to engaging in public debates, as women did in the early days of Islam, and getting involved in decision-making processes something I hear women also did back then.  Recognition of the contribution that women made to politics in the past and that is noted in the relevant Islamic literature, means this proclamation is long overdue. 

Saudi women could even lead the military because apparently Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, commanded an army of men while riding on the then accepted mode of transport - a camel.  

Comparing that piece of history to this article about a women sentenced to lashes for driving a car (todays accepted mode of transport)  just days after the King has made his historic announcement, it's rather sad, and obvious, how far women's status in Saudi has fallen over the centuries.

Turning women's right to vote and becoming members of an important council in Saudi Arabia from words to reality may, like many things in Saudi, go so slowly it's in danger of going backwards - let's hope not.

Ka Kite,

1 comment:

  1. I think the powers that be are probably giving lip service to the new 'women can vote' decree... but as you say... time will tell if it happens.


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