Oil Report

Women MPs and elections not needed in Saudi -prince

RIYADH, March 25 (Reuters) - Islamic Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has no need for women members of parliament or elections, a senior prince said in remarks published on Wednesday.

There are no political parties in Saudi Arabia but reform activists hope the advisory Shura Council -- an all-male body appointed by the king -- will be transformed into an elected legislature one day.

“Appointing the members always ensures that the best are selected,” Interior Minister Prince Nayef said in comments carried by al-Jazirah daily. “If it was to happen through elections, the members would not have had been this competent.”

Asked if that could include women, he said: “I don’t see the need for that.”

Diplomats say the inner circle of powerful Saudi royals are divided over political reforms. Prince Nayef, half-brother to King Abdullah, is seen as a hawk opposed to changes.

Saudi men were allowed to vote for some seats on municipal councils in 2005.

The king has promoted cautious reforms as part of an effort to combat radicalism that was launched after the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001.

The attacks, in which 15 of the 19 perpetrators were from Saudi Arabia, focused international attention on the influence of the hardline Wahhabi Islam that dominates in Saudi Arabia.

Last month, the king broke with tradition to appoint a woman as deputy education minister.

The royal family rules in alliance with powerful clerics who oversee the application of Islamic sharia law. They say women should cover their faces in public and try to prevent them mixing with unrelated men. Women are barred from driving. (Reporting by Souhail Karam)