April 26, 2009 / 8:42 AM / 10 years ago

Saudi Arabia mulls allowing women to vote: report

An elderly Egyptian woman casts her vote in Cairo September 7, 2005. REUTERS/Ali Jarekji AJ/DH

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is considering allowing women to vote in municipal elections this year but they would still be barred from running for office, a senior government official was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter and a key ally of the United States. The absolute monarchy applies an austere form of Sunni Islam which bans unrelated men and women from mixing.

Prince Mansour bin Muteb, deputy minister for municipal and rural affairs, made the comments after attending a conference of municipal councils in the Eastern Province, Saudi newspapers reported.

The meeting’s recommendations included one that women should be eligible to vote, the liberal-leaning daily al-Watan said.

Officials at the municipal and rural affairs ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

Only eligible males voted in municipal elections in 2005 which were the desert kingdom’s first ever nationwide polls since the state’s inception in 1932.

The election for half the seats on the councils was part of a series of reforms undertaken after the September 11 attacks of 2001 focused international attention on Saudi Arabia’s political and religious culture. Most of the attackers were Saudi, acting in the name of the Islamist group al Qaeda.

The meeting in the Eastern Province, the first indication that the municipal vote will take place this year, recommended that the government continues to name half the members of the council, al-Watan said.

Reporting by Souhail Karam

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