According to a ruling of the Saudi Shura Council on Monday, women should heretofore be allowed to exercise their voting rights as well as run as candidates in the next municipal elections. However, due to registrations for the elections to be held on September 22nd having already been completed, the recommendation regards the elections of 2015. The Shura Council in Saudi Arabia retains only consultative and not legislative authority and the recommendation will have to be agreed ultimately by King Abdullah before being incorporated into the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, since the members of the Council are appointed by the King himself, it is expected that such a recommendation will cause a heated debate in the conservative Kingdom.
In December 2005, Saudi Arabia announced the formation of 178 municipal councils which followed the landmark municipal elections of the same year. Half of the members were elected, while the rest was appointed by the Saudi Arabian government. In May 2009, the term of the municipal councils was extended by two years. More than 60 Saudi intellectuals and activists called for a boycott of the ballot because in view of Saudi women being banned from voting, they consider municipal councils suffering from lack of legitimization.
Although Saudi Arabia has remained largely unaffected by Arab spring violence, the revolutionary wave of demonstrations in the Arab world has mobilized Saudi women, who in turn are still not allowed to mobilize a vehicle on the ground but are permitted to fly a plane in the air. The online campaign of Baladi (Arabic for “My Country”) against their expulsion from the municipal elections is currently joined by a group of Saudi women planning a mass protest on June 17th for freedom to drive. Inspired by the on-line grassroots campaigns in Egypt and Tunisia, Saudi women are pushing for equal rights, challenging the current male guardian system. With the international and American pressure regarding women’s rights tacitly mounting, King Abdullah reacted rather ostentatiously by appointing the first woman deputy minister and opening the mixed-sex King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in 2009. Nevertheless, Saudi women want more.