Women surpass expectations, corner 19 civic council seats

Updated 15 December 2015

Women surpass expectations, corner 19 civic council seats

RIYADH: The municipal election results sprung a surprise on Sunday with 19 women, out of a total of 2,106 candidates, emerging victorious and defying the general expectations of people across the Kingdom that fewer of them would win.

Among the 19 glorious women were two in Qassim, two in Eastern Province, two in Al-Ahsa, one in Jazan, three in Riyadh, two in Jeddah, two in Hail, two in Tabuk, one in Al-Jouf, one in Madinah and one in Makkah.
Abdul Lateef Al-Asheikh, municipal and rural affairs minister, said that 702,542 citizens cast their votes, which was 47.4 percent of all registered voters. He said the elected members would form two-third of the municipal councils. The rest will be appointed by the minister.
Speaking to AFP, Khadra Al-Mubarak in Qatif, a winner, said: “I will be in contact with society, especially women, to deliver their voices and demands to the council. I promise I will represent them by all means.”
Sahar Hassan Nasief, a campaigner in Jeddah, said: “Even if it was only one woman, we’re really proud of that. Honestly, we weren’t expecting anyone to win.”
In the first announcement of a female winner, Salma bint Hizab Al-Otaibi was elected in Makkah city, SPA reported. Hanouf bint Mufrih bin Ayid Al-Hazmi won in Al-Jouf, SPA said, adding that neighboring Tabuk elected two women.
In the east, Sana Abdel Latif Hamam and Maasooma Abdel Mohsen Al-Rida were elected in Al-Ahsa province, SPA said. Winners came from the south as well, with one woman elected in Jazan region, while two others including Lama Al-Suleiman will join councils in Jeddah, poll officials told SPA.
According to Judea Al-Qahtani, spokesman of the General Committee for Municipal Elections, female voters represented 42 percent of the total votes, though women’s participation as voters or candidates was the first of its kind in the history of the Kingdom.
A total of 235 candidates, including nine women, were disqualified for violations of regulations. A fine of SR50,000 was imposed on disqualified candidates.

Expressing his satisfaction about the turnout, Al-Asheikh said that his ministry had roped in 35,000 workers to man the 1,296 polling centers in all parts of the Kingdom.
Nouf Al-Rakan, the chairwoman of the businesswomen’s committee at Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, mentioned that the election and its results were an amazing opportunity for Saudi women to be part of the development and management process in their communities.
“Many of these women who participated in the election are known to me personally. They already have had a big impact on women’s issues in different fields, “ she said.
“I cannot wait to see these winners join the municipal council to prove to the entire world that Saudi women are an addition to their communities,” he added.
Mona Al-Bilaihid, an education expert who attended a preparation training course for women voters, highly lauded the women winning seats. “It was a great achievement made possible by the support of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to women in continuation of the policy of his processor King Abdullah in supporting women, “ she said.
“Having women on the municipal council has two important significances: The first guarantees that the needs of women and children in neighborhoods are better understood; the other is that women are really equal to men according to our Islamic religion,” she added.
Haitham Bozo, a prominent businessman, said that including women in the election and the council as winners is very important as women in any society, including in Saudi, represent half of the population.
“Besides this, women have great influence in Saudi society despite it looking like a male-dominant society, and I am sure that she will exercise the same influence in public affairs in her neighborhood related to women and children, especially since Saudi women have reached very high levels of education and experience, “ he said.
Ibrahim Al-Babutain, a government official, said that inclusion of women in the municipal councils will provide diversity in opinions in the council in addition to addition of new experiences in it and giving them the opportunity to participate in decision making.
“Women in Islam used to participate in decision making. This is proven by the story of the woman who stood in the face of the second calif of Islam, Omar bin Al-Khattab in a matter related to women, making him admit that he was wrong while she was correct, at the mosque that was a venue, similar to todays’ parliaments, to tackle public affairs that affect Muslims,” he said.
Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh, the minister, thanked Custodian of Two Holy Mosque King Salman who was keen on conducting the polls with a high degree of accuracy and transparency.
Thanking government agencies and committees that participated in the preparation and conducting of the electoral process, the minister said the media was largely responsible in raising awareness of the electoral system, its process and conduct of both the voters and candidates.
Congratulating the newly elected members, the minister said that the winners will contribute their best to the successful function of the local bodies.
“The successful election is mainly due to the awareness campaign conducted by the ministry by holding workshops, formation of various committees and training on voter registration at polling stations.”
He said success was also shown by the voters’ enthusiasm and the candidates’ ardent interest in participating in the polls.
The voting at all polling stations in the country began at 8 a.m. and continued without break until 5 p.m. on Saturday. There were 343 constituencies distributed across all Saudi districts for citizens above 18 years of age. As many as 6,917 candidates were running for office, which included 979 females. The elections in Riyadh were contested by 286 men and 141 women, of whom 20 were elected which included three women. Voters who came to the polls in Riyadh included 7,765 men and 3,683 women.
The commercial capital of Jeddah province elected 20 members to the council which included two women. The province registered 39,748 voters which included 3,654 women.
The total number of voters in Al-Baha region reached 51.5 percent, which was supposed to be the highest in the Kingdom. The voters comprised 12,743 men and 946 women.
Jazan also had a record of 44.9 percent voters registered for the polls. There were 15 winners including a woman.
Tabuk came out with 98 winners for 13 municipal councils in the region.
On Saturday, the voting day, around 1.5 million were registered as voters at 1,263 election centers, to give their voices to around 7,000 candidates, of whom 979 were women, for the municipal councils around the Kingdom.
The participation was a surprise to international press that carried many of their participation stories on their front pages. Also women’s participation was a new experience and a big challenge for these women in a country mostly dominated by males.
According to election commission data, nearly 1.5 million people aged 18 and above signed up for the polls.

— With contribution from Mohammed Rasooldeen, Saeed Al-Khotani & Sharif Taha

How Saudis are adapting to fast-changing life in the Kingdom

Women and children attend Saudi Arabia’s first-ever jazz festival in Riyadh on Feb. 23. (Reuters)
Updated 7 min 54 sec ago

How Saudis are adapting to fast-changing life in the Kingdom

  • Retired psychologist Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sobihi explains why the recent big changes in Saudi Arabia have been accepted so easily
  • Umm Al-Qura instructor Abdulrahman Al-Haidari says most of the Saudis who have taken up education abroad are returning to help in the Kingdom's modernization program

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is undergoing major changes to meet the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives. These significant changes have had an impact on locals socially and psychologically. 

A retired psychologist Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sobihi, 53, explains how humans adapt to change.

“Humans find it difficult to accept change. It is a human trait, humans face fear and anxiety when it comes to change, they want things to stay the way they are because they fear the changes may bring disadvantages and negative outcomes. For this reason, governments face many difficulties when implementing new programs and activities,” Al-Sobihi told Arab News.

To understand why the big changes in the Kingdom have been accepted so easily, Al-Sobihi said, one has to look at the social and psychological pressures before they occurred.

“What is beautiful and sad about this is that our society accepted this change so quickly. Why? because it went through a period called Al-Sahwa (awakening) and this period pressured society. Everything was forbidden, shameful and wrong, this long period pressured society psychologically and socially.

“So when the major changes happened, society found an outlet. Therefore, they accepted these changes so quickly. Not because our society adapts to change quickly, but because of the period spent in the “awakening” period. It delayed so many natural changes that happen in any other society. What happened to our society was that some things were permanent for so long — when the chance came to receive all these changes, most were very welcoming to these changes.”

Umm Al-Qura instructor Abdulrahman Al-Haidari said the Kingdom has changed amazingly in the last few years.

“The country keeps going from one amazing phase of development after another. Who would imagine that 70 years ago, this land had displayed the poorest statistics in terms of economy, population, life expectations, education, and individual rights. It’s amazing how one generation ago we went from teaching in ill-equipped huts, to reach some of the most advanced educational projects where our students get to send Saudi satellites to outer space.”

Al-Haidari explained that the country had welcomed women into their new empowered roles within a short period of time.

“Today, we are going even further and faster with neck-breaking speed. Saudi’s ability of modernizing, and yet keeping true to its own culture and origins makes this country the center of attention: In one day, Majlis Al-Shoura had third of its positions filled with Saudi women. Suddenly we had Saudi women as vice ministers, engineers, PhDs, doctors and nurses and in all other sorts of fields. 

“It’s amazing (when you consider) that my own generation was raised to not even allow a Saudi women to voice her thoughts in public, to let them share the wheel, steering the country’s march toward modernization.”

Saudis have embraced change, Al-Haidari added. “We can see how people are accepting change in the manner they approach the new festivals, we see musical events being sold out, (as well as) wrestling, cooking, even military and weapon production. However, I believe the most undeniable indicator for the Saudis’ welcoming attitude toward change is clearly displayed with the return of almost all overseas scholarship students.

“Just like myself, hundreds of thousands were sent overseas to learn, and almost none of them had any contract to be forced to come back to Saudi: But yet, they did, and still do. What could be more clearer than having the most elite and educated population of Saudi (if not even the world) wanting to come back home to advance both their careers and their country’s (future)?”

The majority of the nation adapted to the new social dynamics such as women working in the same fields and ranks as men, and the number of Saudi women in media, Al-Haidari added.

“Doubters were shown how much the community is longing to advance the role of the Saudi women. It would be so hard to even try to doubt that: Starting with Majles Al-Shoura having a third of its seats filled by Saudi women, having the issue of Saudi women’s right to drive as the first topic addressed, and now reaching the point where they will finally get some of their rights fulfilled finally. 

“You can also see the Saudi population welcoming this change: You can see that with the families that attended recent soccer matches in stadiums, families on YouTube supporting their wives, sisters, and mothers to drive, and not to forget: Thousands of Saudi girls going overseas to obtain their higher education. These are just a fraction of the current manifestations displayed by the Saudi community to show its welcome to Saudi women to take their rightful place, and to help the community grow with the help of all its members.”

Commenting about the General Entertainment Authority that changed much of the societal landscape, Al-Haidari said: “I find it to be amazing. Who would have thought a year ago that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) would come and have an event here? Who would have thought that we would get (Algerian musician) Cheb Khaled or (US hip-hop artist) Nelly to come and perform in Saudi? Who would have thought that it would have been this easy and quick to establish cinemas, female gyms, even a whole opera theater a year ago? Of course, we still want more, and much more. But the trend is going so quick and so fast showing that we are to expect great events and functions to come in the near future.”

YouTuber Rahaf Jambi, 27, described how the country’s economy has diversified. “We just don’t count on oil now, the economy is growing better. It’s true that we are at war with Yemen, but this didn’t stop the Kingdom from growing and there are a lot of improvements, there are a lot of human rights fulfilled. Women driving, this is one of the main important things that happened and it will be good for the Kingdom because it will improve the market.

“Women will not have to rely on drivers. It’s a better opportunity for Saudis to work in transportation companies such as Uber and Careem, even the girls can work in this field, and girls can become police officers,” Jambi told Arab News. 

“Having cinema in the Kingdom is a good thing — we will have more Saudi movies and movies that will be produced in Saudi Arabia. It’s going to be a good environment for Saudi talent.”

With women working in the same fields as men and reaching high ranks, and the many women emerging in the media, Jambi added: “I see a bright future for women.”

Jambi said he hoped big name world brands such as Apple would come to the Kingdom. “We need the Apple store in the Kingdom, we need a lot of brands to open in the Kingdom.”