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Saudi Arabia: 20 women elected in first women inclusive vote

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Riyadh: Voters in Saudi Arabia elected 20 women for local government seats, according to election results after the momentous day when women were allowed to vote as well as contest in the polls for the first time in the history of the country.

Though the elected 20 form just one per cent of the estimated 2,100 contested seats in the municipal council, it is a huge step forward for a country where women still need permission from male guardians to work, travel, or enroll in school. Women are not even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

The only two former elections in 2005 and 2011 featured only male candidates campaigning for a mass of male voters. The municipal council, which is the only government body in Saudi where citizens elect the representatives, saw roughly 7000 prospective candidates for its positions, including 979 women.

There are no quotas in place for women candidates. However, 1,050 seats are appointed only on the king’s approval, which gives him the power to make sure that more women are represented.

The elected women come from various parts of the country, including the largest city, as well as a small village near Mecca.

Riyadh, Saudi’s conservative capital, saw four elected women – the highest from any region – while the Shiite concentrated Eastern Province had two elected women, said Hamad Al-Omar, who heads the media council of the General Election Commission.

Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, the most cosmopolitan Jeddah, along with the conservative city of Qassim, both saw two women elected.

Madrakah, a village situated about 150 kilometres north of Islam’s holiest site, also saw a woman elected, informed Mecca mayor Osama al-Bar to the AP.

Yet another woman won in Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad’s first mosque was built.

In the northernmost areas of the kingdom, two women were elected in Tabuk, and one each from Jawf and Hail. Jizan, on the southernmost border had one woman representative, neighbouring region Asir had another, and the eastern region of al-Ahsa had two.

Many of the women candidates ran on platforms promising overall greener cities with better garbage collection, improved roads, increased number of nurseries for working mothers which offer longer daycare hours, and the establishment community centers for the youth with sports and cultural activities.

Also read: Saudi Arabia cracks women political barrier, allows them to vote

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Despite Pleas From Senate, U.S. President Donald Trump Stands By Saudi Prince

Trump said he could abide by legislation ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen

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Donald Trump, Prince
U.S. President Donald Trump sits for an exclusive interview with Reuters journalists in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he stood by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.

“He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally,” Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.

Saudi Arabia Prince
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the second day of the Future Investment Initiative conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. VOA

Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Some members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.

“I just haven’t heard that,” Trump said. “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

While Trump has condemned the murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was often critical of MbS, he has given the benefit of the doubt to the prince with whom he has cultivated a deep relationship.

Trump again reiterated on Tuesday that the “crown prince vehemently denies” involvement in a killing that has sparked outrage around the world.

Khashoggi, Prince
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. VOA

Trump has come under fierce criticism from fellow Republicans in the Senate over the issue, particularly after CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed them. Last month, the CIA assessed that MbS ordered the killing, which Trump called “very premature.”

“You have to be willfully blind not to come to the conclusion that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the command of MbS,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said last week.

Meeting with Senators

Graham and other senators who have supported the U.S.-Saudi alliance over the years have said that Trump should impose more sanctions after a first round targeted 17 Saudis for their alleged role in the killing in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

USA, Prince
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters after a closed-door security briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel on the slaying of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and involvement of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, at the Capitol in Washington. VOA

As the Senate considers this week a joint resolution condemning the crown prince for the killing, something that the president would have to sign or veto if passed by Congress, Trump said he would meet with senators.

Trump said he hoped senators would not propose stopping arms sales to the Saudis, deals he has doggedly fought to save ever since the gruesome details of Khashoggi’s murder were leaked by Turkey.

“And I really hope that people aren’t going to suggest that we should not take hundreds of billions of dollars that they’re going to siphon off to Russia and to China,” Trump said.

Also Read: The Khashoggi Killing Creates Differences Between Trump And U.S. Lawmakers

Trump said he could abide by legislation ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war effort in Yemen, a proxy war with regional rival Iran that has led to a deepening humanitarian disaster.

“Well, I’m much more open to Yemen because frankly, I hate to see what’s going on in Yemen,” Trump said. “But it takes two to tango. I’d want to see Iran pull out of Yemen too. Because – and I think they will.” (VOA)