March 10 (Bloomberg) — Women will be allowed to vote in Saudi Arabia under a plan for the kingdom’s first elections later this year, the U.K.’s Guardian reported, citing officials.
The proposal risks angering religious leaders in the Islamic state, where women are forced to cover their heads and bodies in public, are banned from driving and can travel only with a male relative’s permission. Opponents aren’t expected to have enough time to organize a challenge to the planned election law, which is expected to be approved in August, the newspaper said.
There will be no clause saying that women are not eligible to vote or be elected,” Saleh al-Malik, a member of the non- elected Saudi parliament, told the Guardian. The paper cited a statement from the Saudi Embassy in London as saying, “It is believed both men and women will be given the opportunity to vote.” An embassy spokesman reached by telephone said he couldn’t comment immediately on the Guardian’s report.
The Saudi government unveiled plans in May to increase popular participation in government and the economy, update educational curriculums, sell off some state-owned industry and gain entry into the World Trade Organization. In January, the acting leader, Crown Prince Abdullah, announced a program of more political openness by following the path of moderation and combating extremists’ attempts to disrupt the country.