Last weekend, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has announced that women might in future be allowed to stand as candidates in municipal elections and “will even have a right to vote”. Among women’s rights activists, excitement and optimism have been reported.
I am shocked, not by the king’s announcement, but by the positive reception. Wake up, people! It’s time for a reality check:
- So far, this is only an announcement. Nothing concrete yet.
- The voting rights that shall so generously be bestowed upon women concern municipal elections of the future. Coincidentally, the next municipal elections will take place later this week, ensuring that an all-male electorate will elect all-male councils for the maximum term.
- The municipal councils have nothing much to say. Half of their members are appointed by the king, only the other half are elected. Each of the 13 regions has a governor (yes, you guessed it, he is again appointed by the king) who makes all the decisions. The councils can do a bit of talking.
- Women won’t be allowed to vote for or be elected to a national parliament. The king didn’t need to specify this because there is no parliament in Saudi Arabia.
- The king also announced that he may appoint women to the Shura Council. This is also no big deal, as (a) the king could always appoint whomever he wanted to and (b) this consulting body has absolutely no powers at all. It cannot pass laws.
This announcement is a publicity stunt, nothing more. It is sad that so many news organisations and NGOs have fallen for it.
In other news from this “modernising and reforming kingdom”, a Saudi woman has been sentenced to 10 lashes today for driving a car.
Let’s call the bluff and call it what it is: A dictator in one of the world’s most oppressive countries makes an empty promise to women that they can vote for people who have nothing to say, in a country that doesn’t allow political parties, but only if the women manage to leave their house on election day which they may not do without a male guardian and never behind the wheel of a car. Some kind of progress. In 2011.