Jamal Al-Saadi and Safinaz Abu Al-Shamat made history earlier this month by becoming Saudi Arabia's first registered female voters. They registered at voting stations in the holy cities of Madinah and Makkah, respectively. Saadi said that being able to vote in the upcoming elections "was a dream" and said that "the move will enable Saudi women to have a say" in how things are run. Shamat said that she felt a national duty to participate in the elections, and is contemplating running for candidacy herself. She said she would "love to go through this experience till the very end".
Voting rights in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have historically been reserved solely for men. This was overturned by an announcement by the now-late King Abdullah in 2011, in which he authorized women to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections.
This year will see the first municipal election since the 2011 decree. Voting registration opened on Sunday (August 23) in Madinah and Makkah, and will expand to the rest of the country a week later on August 30. In addition to Saadi and Shamat, four other women registered to vote in Makkah on Sunday. The youngest women to register so far is Aliyah Al-Diais, who is 18.
Some are concerned that existing repressive laws will discourage women from the voting process. Saudi women are not allowed to drive, for example, and may have no way to the polls if their male guardian disagrees with their right to vote. Election coordinator Ihab Al-Rifaie believes that the low number of female voters is due to the short length of time registration has been open, and expects to see the number rise with time.
The voter registration period lasts 21 days, and the municipal elections will be held in December. 70 women have already indicated they intend to run for office, and another 80 women have signed up as campaign managers.