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>> Asharq Al-Awsat


SAUDI SHURA COUNCIL RECOMMENDS WOMEN BE GRANTED VOTE

Asharq Al-Awsat - September 11, 2011

by Amal Baqzai

The issue of Saudi Arabian women voting at the forthcoming municipal elections has taken on a new dimension after the Shura Council voted that “all necessary measures” be taken to ensure this. The Saudi Shura Council’s recommendation in this regard has now been sent to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz for formal approval, although it is unclear when this will be implemented or if Saudi women will be allowed to vote at the forthcoming municipal elections scheduled to take place later this month.

This recommendation was forwarded to King Abdullah after some members of the Shura Council withdrew their objections to this decision. The Saudi Shura Council has therefore now formally recommended that “all necessary measures” be taken to ensure that women are allowed to vote in “future” municipal elections “in accordance with the provisions of Islamic Sharia law”, although this recommendation did not include Saudi women being granted the right to stand for election.

Saudi Shura Council member Dr. Abdulrahman al-Enad confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that this recommendation has been publicly presented to Saudi monarch King Abdullah. He added that this recommendation does not specify which round of municipal elections that Saudi women should be allowed to vote in, but merely recommends that all necessary measures are taken to allow Saudi Arabian women to vote.

In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Shura Council member Dr. Abdulrahman al-Enad revealed that “the [Shura Council] vote on this recommendation took place more than 3 weeks ago after this draft resolution was put forward by Shura Council member Dr. Zuhair al-Harthi, and it was passed with a majority vote.”

Dr. al-Enad noted that the Shura Council chairman or a petition signed by 15 Shura Council members is sufficient to challenge any draft proposal so long as this takes place before it is transferred to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz. He added that “what happened [in the case of the draft proposal over women voting] was that approximately 18 Shura Council members challenged this decision for objective reasons, and they submitted a document [to this effect] approximately one month ago” adding that “one of the Shura Council’s mechanisms of action is to vote on accepting or not accepting such a challenge.”

He added that the challenge in question did not include a veto of the Shura Council’s recommendation that women be allowed to participate in the municipal elections, but rather was a call for more discussion and a second vote on this issue, revealing that this challenge was ultimately voted down.

Dr. al-Enad told Asharq Al-Awsat that those Shura Council members calling for more discussion on the issue of women being granted the right to vote in Saudi Arabian municipal elections want to change the result of the recommendation and exploit an opportunity to put forward conflicting views. He stressed that ultimately those who challenged this recommendation and called for further discussion oppose the recommendation to allow women to vote.

He revealed “lodging a challenge to [reverse] a particular decision taken by the Shura Council requires the vote of half the Shura Council, not [even] a majority, however those who challenged the decision regarding the recommendation that women be allowed to vote in municipal elections were only able to obtain 35 votes, in comparison to 98 Shura Council members who voted against this.”

Shura Council member Dr. al-Enad, who is also a member of the Saudi National Association for Human Rights, therefore confirmed and reiterated the previous position taken by the Shura Council regarding women voting. He stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “according to the regulations of the Shura Council…there is no need for a new resolution [recommending women voting] for the old resolution remains in effect and will be proposed to the crown.”

As for when Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz will sign off on this recommendation, Dr. al-Enad said that the Shura Council is awaiting the issuance of a royal decree to this effect, adding that there is no specific timeframe for this.

He also revealed that “after the Shura Council ends its voting on any recommendation it is directly put forward to the crown, either for approval or to be forwarded to the cabinet in the event that this requires a reform of the system or the issuance of a [specific] decision” adding that after approval “it is referred to the concerned authority in order to begin implementation.” Dr. al-Enad also stressed that Shura Council resolutions and decisions are merely advisory, and that ultimately the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz must officially approve any recommendation.

Saudi Shura Council member Dr. al-Enad also stressed that the recommendation by the Shura Council is a “historic” one, before adding that with this recommendation being forwarded to the Saudi monarch the Shura Council’s role in proceedings have now drawn to a close and it is up to the crown to decide whether, and indeed when, to approve this.

As for the possibility of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz signing off on this recommendation in the near future, allowing women to participate in the forthcoming municipal elections scheduled to begin later this month, Dr. Abdulrahman al-Enad told Asharq Al-Awsat that “from my personal point of view, if there is a will to implement this decision then there is no problem with this being implemented with regards to the forthcoming elections…even if this requires the postponement of the municipal elections for two months or more, particularly as these municipal elections were already postponed for a period of two years.” He also clarified that the Saudi Shura Council is not in a position to make this decision, as it must come from the Saudi monarch.

However he added that “it was necessary [for the Shura Council] to send this important message to the crown, and the Shura Council succeeded in conveying the pulse of the Saudi street and the people’s desire for women to be allowed to participate in the municipal council elections.”

This decision was initially reached in June, approximately 18 days after the close of the voter registration period for the municipal elections; since 23 April, a number of Saudi women have previously tried to register to vote at the forthcoming municipal elections, although all such efforts failed to succeed. However it seems clear now following the Saudi Shura Council recommendation that the issue of women voting has take a huge step forward in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.





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