UK speaks on voting in Saudi Arabia

By Jen Taylor

­­­In the second-ever nationwide vote, men in Saudi Arabia voted in local elections Thursday, just four days after the king granted women the right to vote.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced Sunday he is giving women the right to vote in the next local elections, scheduled for 2015. Women will also be allowed to be appointed to the all-male Shura Council.

Saudi Arabian women, regardless of their age, require a male guardian; it is also the only country that does not allow women to drive.

Fahad Mohd is an accounting freshman from Saudi Arabia and has lived in the United States for two years.

“I wasn’t surprised because I knew in the end women would have this right, but it is too late, I mean, it’s 2011,” he said. “I don’t think voting is really a big deal.”

Since Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, the elections are for a council that advises the monarchy.

“The right to vote is limited because it is not a democracy,” said Srimati Basu, an associate professor of gender and women’s studies and anthropology.

Hassan Alomran is a computer science sophomore from Saudia Arabia and has been in the U.S. for three years.

“I’ve been waiting for this news to happen, and finally it did,” he said. “Women are a big part of the Saudi community and they should have rights.”

Alomran said the next step for the government is to give women the right to drive.

“I think that the allowance of women to have a political say is going to lead to women being able to drive,” Alomran said. “It’s going to need time, but at this point pinpointing when is hard to do.”

Mohd agreed and does not think women will have the right to drive anytime soon. “Giving women the right to vote is not as big as giving the right to drive,” Mohd said. “The government trusts guys more than women; it’s just its culture.”

Even if the government allows women to drive, their families will not, so the whole culture has to catch up with the laws that are being made, Mohd said.

He believes that it will take maybe 15 years for families to adjust, enough time for now teens and young adults to get into positions of power, to start families and begin to change the culture.

He also said he believes in about 15 years women could have the right to drive. “Young people will be working in government and have different ideas,” Mohd said.

Melissa Stein, an assistant professor for gender and women’s studies, said her first thought was it is wonderful that women will be able to vote.

“Then I thought this is kind of interesting; they can vote, but not drive? What if a man refuses to drive her to vote or insists on going in with her? Giving the right to drive is much more concrete,” she said.

Basu had similar thoughts. “We should be both glad and cynical,” Basu said. “We don’t know how this is going to turn out yet.”

She said on one hand, women’s groups have been pushing for this. But on the other, “it’s so little and unclear what the effects will be.”

“I’m cynical anyway. There seems to be part that is seeming to give women more power, but not really,” she said. “I mean, yesterday someone was punished for driving.”

The instance she referred to was when only days after the king gave women the right to vote, a court ruling sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for breaking the ban on female driving, according to The Associated Press. The next day, however, Abdullah overturned the ruling. After he overturned it, Saudi Princess Amira al-Taweel tweeted, “Thank God, the lashing of Shema is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved king.”