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Women register to run for election in Saudi first

Saudi-Women-3-CopySaudi women for the first time began to register as candidates Sunday for municipal polls in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom where they face a host of restrictions, including a driving ban.

Earlier this month, in another first, women started to register as voters at centres run by all-female staff, separate from registration facilities for Saudi males.

Women in the Gulf state, which applies a strict segregation of the sexes, are banned from driving and have to cover in public from head to toe.

They also have to obtain the consent of a male guardian to travel, work, apply for a passport or to marry.

The late king Abdullah in 2011 granted women the right to vote and run as candidates in this year’s local elections, saying: “We refuse to marginalise women’s role in Saudi society.”

Saudi-funded newspaper Al-Hayat said earlier this month that around 200 women had expressed interest in running as candidates in the December 12 vote.

Candidate registration is to run until September 17, while voter registration ends on September 14.

Out of 1,263 polling stations in 284 municipalities across the monarchy, 424 have been reserved for women voters.

“I am very excited to take part in this new experience,” said Amal Mohammed, a 35-year-old woman as she registered to vote in the port city of Jeddah.

Abdullah, who died in January, introduced municipal elections to Saudi Arabia in 2005 when he was crown prince.

This year, two-thirds of municipal council members will be elected and the rest appointed by the authorities. In the last all-male vote in 2011, half of the members were elected.

Municipal councils are to be granted financial and administrative independence to encourage “participation of citizens in decision-making on matters that affect their daily lives”, said Jadee al-Qahtani, local elections committee spokesman.

However, many young men in the absolute monarchy remain sceptical.

“I know nothing about these elections and I’m not planning to take part,” Majed al-Harbi, 25, told AFP. “What did these councils achieve for our cities? All they do is make promises.”

In February 2013, Abdullah also for the first time named women to the country’s Shura Council, an all-appointed consultative body.

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