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Saudi Arabia cracks women political barrier, allows them to vote

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Saudi Arabia women (source: lifegate.com)

While women in Saudi Arabia still aren’t allowed to drive cars, and need to take permission from a male guardian to work, travel, or enroll in school, they will be standing for the country’s municipal elections slated for December 12. This is the first time in the history of the country, where ‘women emancipation’ is a strange word for many, that women have been allowed to participate in the electoral process.

The only two former elections in 2005 and 2011 featured only male candidates campaigning for a mass of male voters. In a country where tribal loyalties are of great importance, the concept of electoral democracy is still new.

The late King Abdullah, in 2011, had given the country’s women the right to vote in the 2015 elections and also stand as candidates. Women had enjoyed at least some voting rights in the other Gulf countries till then. He had also ordered that 20 per cent of members of the Shura Council, the kingdom’s quasi-parliament, be females.

“We reject to marginalize the role of women in the Saudi society,” he had said at the time.

According to reports on Monday, among the 6,917 total candidates this year, 979 are women competing for positions in 284 municipal councils. However, in a population of 31 million, only 131,000 women have registered to vote. Still, the move is massive step towards progress.

“We will vote for the women even though we don’t know anything about them,” Um Fawaz, a young teacher, told The Arab Weekly, “It’s enough that they are women.”

Men haven’t been completely hostile to this idea either. Saud al-Shammry, a Riyadh resident of 43, commended the move and said that it was time for a new approach. He added that “there’s a big possibility” of him voting for a woman if her platform was convincing enough.

“If we want to develop or reform our country we should put a woman in every decision-making level,” said Nassima Al-Sadah, a Qatif candidate.

Females however, still have a long way to go in the country. Rules which strictly keep the two sexes separate and other gender-specific restrictions hinder the campaigning process of the women to a large extent. Moreover, women are barely aware of the registration procedures and the number of registration stations opened by the government is too few.

Though candidates are not allowed to communicate directly with members of the opposite sex, it doesn’t pose a problem for the male candidates who can speak with the men voters who form the majority. Women are left to campaign mainly through spokespersons, as they are not allowed to contact men even via social media.

“If I want to win, I have to target men,” candidate Nassima al-Sadah told The New York Times earlier this month. “I can’t win if I don’t talk to men.”

An official promotional poster for the elections in Hafr al-Batin, which contained a drawing of a man and a woman, had the woman’s face slashed out.

“It’s very, very difficult for us to win and to target our voters,” said 33-year-old Safinaz Abu-Alshamat, who is planning a social media campaign in her Makkah district.

Yet another cause of worry for the country’s female population is that King Salman, who succeeded the late King Abdullah in January, hasn’t done much towards politically empowering women. So, there is a great need for rigorous active female participation in this year’s election, in order to make sure that the women’s rights reforms aren’t scaled back by the ruling monarch.

“I’m not excited by the idea of winning,” candidate Loujain al-Hathloul told Britain’s The Telegraph. Hathloul spent 73 days in jail earlier this year for her participation in a women’s voting drive. “I’m focused on increasing the number of women who stand in elections,” she said.

While some, such as university professor and women’s rights campaigner, Dr Hatoon Alfassi call the move “a step toward women’s full citizenship”, others count the changes to women’s suffrage laws as amounting to nothing.

“Things are getting worse and worse,” remarked activist Aziza al-Yousef. “I think we need to change the whole system.”

 

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US House Block Administration from Selling Billions of Dollars in Weapons to Saudi Arabia

Two of the resolutions passed with 238 votes, while a third was approved with 237

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FILE - People attend a demonstration to protest against the loading of weapons aboard a cargo ship operating for Saudi Arabia's defense and interior ministries, in Le Havre, France, May 9, 2019. VOA

Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump after the House voted Wednesday to block his administration from selling billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance support to Saudi Arabia.

Trump, who has sought to forge closer ties with Riyadh, has pledged to veto the resolutions of disapproval that passed the Democratic-led House largely along party lines. Two of the resolutions passed with 238 votes, while a third was approved with 237. Each of the measures garnered just four Republican backers.

The Senate cleared the resolutions last month, but like the House, fell well short of a veto-proof majority. Overturning a president’s veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.

Heightened Middle East tensions

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Congress is heading for a showdown with President Donald Trump after the House voted Wednesday to block his administration from selling billions of dollars in weapons. Pixabay

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused the Trump administration of circumventing Congress and the law to move ahead with the arms sale. He called the resolutions “extraordinary but necessary” to stop “a phony emergency to override the authority of Congress.”

The votes came against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle East, with much of the focus on Iran. Tehran is pushing the limits on its nuclear program after Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal more than a year ago. Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment over the limits of the accord, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

The White House has declared stopping the sale would send a signal that the United States doesn’t stand by its partners and allies, particularly at a time when threats against them are increasing.

But opposition among members of Congress to the Trump administration’s alliance with the Saudis has been building, fueled by the high civilian casualties in the Saudi-led war in Yemen — a military campaign the U.S. is assisting — and the killing of U.S.-based columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.

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Estimated $8 billion in arms

The arms package, worth an estimated $8 billion, includes thousands of precision-guided munitions, other bombs and ammunition, and aircraft maintenance support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had cited Iranian aggression when declaring an emergency to approve the weapons sales in May. The Saudis have recently faced a number of attacks from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“Right now, as I speak, Iran is stretching its tentacles of terror across the Middle East,” said the Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who pushed for the resolutions to be rejected. “If we allow them to succeed, terrorism will flourish, instability will reign and the security of our allies like Israel will be threatened.”

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Trump, who has sought to forge closer ties with Riyadh, has pledged to veto the resolutions of disapproval that passed the Democratic-led House largely along party lines. PIxabay

Bypassing Congress

Critics of the sale also had denounced the White House for bypassing congressional review of the arms sales, which was done by invoking an emergency loophole in the Arms Export Control Act.

Pompeo had informed Congress that he had made the determination “that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale” of the weapons “in order to deter further the malign influence of the government of Iran throughout the Middle East region.”

The law requires Congress to be notified of potential arms sales, giving the body the opportunity to block the sale. But the law also allows the president to waive that review process by declaring an emergency that requires the sale be made “in the national security interests of the United States.”

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Engel said there was no emergency, arguing that two months after Pompeo’s notification not a single weapon has been shipped and many of them haven’t even been built.

“What kind of emergency requires weapons that will be built months and months down the road?” Engel said. (VOA)