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Arab Spring Benefits Saudi Women

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy
September 26, 2011
The Daily Beast

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The Arab Spring has led to the Saudi ballot box.  For the first time ever, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has granted women the right to vote and to run for local office in the Gulf kingdom–but not until 2015.

“Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics]... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term," Abdullah said in a speech Sunday. "Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote."

Saudi Arabia's first-ever municipal elections came in 2005 and the second set is scheduled for this Thursday, when more than 5,000 men will vie to fill 50 percent of Saudi Arabia's 285 municipal councils. The government decides who fills the other half.

Almost immediately a debate began between those who felt the change was largely symbolic, since it does not take hold for another four years--and women still cannot drive--and those who say it is the start of real change.

“Dawn today is a new era for Women in KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] ... everything feels different,” Muna AbuSulayman, a Saudi TV commentator and women's activist with the Alwaleed Foundation, posted on Facebook.  Later, on Twitter she noted, “the fear of pseudo-suffrage is very real, but right now I'm choosing 2 be happy about decree and worry about it next week.”

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