Politically emancipated Saudi women are socially constrained

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Updated 31 August 2015
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Politically emancipated Saudi women are socially constrained

Municipal elections will be held throughout Saudi Arabia on Dec. 12. In a historic first, Saudi women have been invited to participate as voters and candidates. This Arab News journalist went to register as a voter and discovered that for many Saudi women, making it to the polls won’t be easy.

The first voter registration center visited was No. 1061, located in a girls’ school on the outskirts of the Thuqbah District, Alkhobar. With the registration timing from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., a police car was parked at the door to the registration center, its vehicle lights on to illuminate the entrance. Inside the school there was an enthusiastic greeting from the center’s registration manager, Abeer Al Owirdi, and her team of three women.
“Would you like to register as a voter? Come, please sit down. Would you like Arabic coffee, American coffee or tea? We’re so happy you’ve come here,” said registration official Huda Al Sabt. There was a party atmosphere as documents were produced and checked, but registering to vote was impossible.
“Women must register to vote in the center designated for the district where they live,” explained registration official Aysha Hlawy. With her smartphone, she opened the website, www.intekhab.gov.sa, to show the location map.
When registering to vote at their designated center, women must provide a national Identity card or other recognized government or organization ID, or an attested copy of the family identity document. They also must produce a document proving residence location. Since most women in the Kingdom live as part of a family unit, it is unusual to have a house deed or lease in a woman’s name. This causes complications for voter registration since the prospective registrant must show not only her own ID, but also an ID linking her to the individual owning or renting the property where she lives — as well as the property deed or lease. She will need a male relative to cooperate in making such documents available.
“We are doing our best to help women meet the requirements,” said Al Owirdi. “From the Alkhobar municipality, Essam Al Mulla and Hussain Al Bloushi have set up mobile app communication groups linking all the registration staff so that we can ask questions and get clarifications quickly about documents or other issues. In some cases, the chamber of commerce is attesting documents to make them valid for voter registration.”
When asked about the turnout for voter registration, Al Owirdi stated that at Center 1061, it had been “as expected for the first week of the process,” and that women old and young had registered — although she wouldn’t give specific numbers. Registration official Fatmah Shamasan believed that voter registration would pick up in the remaining two weeks of the process, since the start of the registration period had coincided with the first week of school, and many women had been too busy to come. She also hoped that to reach women at home, there would be awareness efforts about voter registration through schools and social media.
But not everyone is as optimistic. Saudi consultant physician Dr. Solaiman A.M. Solaiman, who unsuccessfully ran for a place in the municipal council, thought it would be a challenge to convince many women to register.
“It’s a very positive move that Saudi women can vote and run as candidates,” said Solaiman. “Whether they will, is something else. Many people are disappointed from the previous elections. They didn’t see any results from the men who were elected to the municipal councils. In the last elections, what mattered was tribe, sect, family and money — not the merits of the candidates. The society here is not educated about voting and what it means.”
He added: “Ladies are clever. They don’t want to follow in men’s footsteps. They will ask, ‘What will we accomplish by voting?’ Then they will look at the broken roads and overflowing trash bins. The municipalities still have a lot of problems that haven’t been solved.”
It’s clear that the Kingdom has a long way to go in taking voting from a name to a practice. Nevertheless, we have to start somewhere. Thursday night it cost another SR30 to take a taxi to Voter Registration Center 1070. The reception there was cordial. The registration staff scrutinized the presented documents. There were smiles all around. The complete address of my home was found through http://locator.com.sa and the registration form was filled out and signed. The pink carbon copy of the form was provided as a registration receipt. It will need to be presented at the same polling station on election day. Mine was the seventh registration received there.
“Come back next week,” the registration center manager encouraged. “We’d love for you to register as a candidate.”


Saudi Arabia intercepts two ballistic missiles fired towards Aramco facility by Houthis

Updated 26 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia intercepts two ballistic missiles fired towards Aramco facility by Houthis

  • Yemen's armed Houthi movement fired two ballistic missiles at a Saudi Aramco facility in the southern city of Jazan
  • No casualties or damage to property was reported

RIYADH: Yemen's armed Houthi movement fired two ballistic missiles at a Saudi Aramco facility in the southern city of Jizan on Monday, but Saudi news agency SPA said both projectiles were destroyed.
The Houthis' Al-Masirah TV said they had targeted a port belonging to the Saudi state oil giant.
SPA quoted the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition as saying the two missiles were intercepted over Jazan and their debris fell on residential neighborhoods.
"There were no casualties or damages recorded as of the time of (our) statement," Colonel Turki al-Maliki said.
Aramco did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The company is building a 400,000-barrel-per-day refinery in Jazan, part of a new economic city on the Red Sea, and it is expected to become fully operational in 2019.
The United Nations says 10,000 people have died in the three-year-old war, and three out of four Yemenis need relief aid.
The coalition says the Houthis are armed and supported by Iran - charges the group and Tehran deny.

Meanwhile on Monday, Houthi political leader Saleh Alsamd was killed in a Saudi air strike in Hobeideh.

He was No. 2 on the Saudi-led coalition’s most-wanted list, after leader Abdel Malek Al-Houthi.

The coalition had previously offered $20 million reward for any information that led to his arrest.