In what may be interpreted as a strategic move to spare the kingdom from the social and political reforms sweeping the Middle East, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has said that women will be allowed to vote and run in municipal elections slated for 2015 and even join the unelected Shula Council.
“Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia (Islamic law), we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama (clerics) and others… to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term,” Abdullah said in a five-minute speech released on Sunday. Despite its limited effect, the change was still welcomed by rights activists.
The United States also hailed the move, with the White House saying that the change will expand the rights of women in the Kingdom. “The announcements made today represent an important step forward in expanding the rights of women in Saudi Arabia,” the statement released by the White House said. “We support King Abdullah and the people of Saudi Arabia as they undertake these and other reforms.”