Why aren't Saudi women allowed to vote in the current local elections?
Abdul Aziz Al-Khamis: Women in Saudi Arabia have major problems – not only the question of voting rights. Women want more. They are demanding basic rights such as equality with men or also the right to drive a car. This is why they view the issue of voting rights as more of a formality – even Saudi men have not yet been granted full political rights. We know that the government had at first promised women that they would be able to vote in the current elections. But this promise was not kept.
How important are the local elections in your opinion, from a political standpoint?
Abdul Aziz Al-Khamis: Elections always play a part in creating a political culture, the culture of voting and campaigning. That is perhaps the most important fruit borne by this experiment. This experiment is not enough, though, because the citizens only elect half of the members of their local parliament. Furthermore, these bodies are not vested with important powers; they are more like advisory councils without any authority. Their benefit consists for the government and the regime in demonstrating to the West that certain democratic reforms are being carried out in Saudi Arabia, too.
In fact, though, an important point here is that the Saudi citizen has begun to exercise his right to vote. This is already a new development in its own right, and it will certainly not stop at that. The pressure will grow for these bodies to be granted even more authority.
Interview by Abdelmoula Boukhraiss
[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]