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September 24, 2011

Saudi King Grants Women Right to Vote, Run in Elections

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has granted Saudi women the right to vote and run in nationwide local elections, four years from now.

The king's announcement Sunday applies to elections set for 2015. The kingdom holds its next local elections on Thursday, but women are not allowed to vote or run in those.

King Abdullah also said that women will be appointed the Shura Council starting with its next term. The Shura Council is an advisory body which is selected by the monarch and has so far been all male.

Women have fewer rights than men in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this year, some women in Saudi Arabia drove cars in a defiant response to the kingdom's traditional ban on women behind the wheel.

There is no written rule in Saudi Arabia barring women from driving, only fatwas, or religious edicts, stemming from a strict tradition of Islam called Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia's Gulf neighbors Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates held elections on Saturday. Women made up nearly 20 percent of the candidates for 20 seats in the UAE's Federal National Council. Preliminary results show at least one woman won a spot in the 40-seat assembly. UAE rulers will appoint people to the other half of the seats.

Voter turnout was considered poor in both countries.

The opposition al-Wefaq party in Bahrain called for Bahrainis to boycott the elections. Bahrainis were voting to fill 18 assembly seats abandoned by al-Wefaq members who quit in protest over the government’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations earlier in the year.