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Saudi Arabian Women Given Right To Vote

...in what appears to be a leap forward for women in the middle east:
(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's king announced on Sunday women would be given the right to vote and stand in elections, a bold shift in the ultra-conservative absolute monarchy as pressure for social and democratic reform sweeps the Middle East.

It was by far the biggest change in Saudi Arabia's tightly-controlled society yet ordered by the 88-year-old Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who took power six years ago with a reformer's reputation but has ruled as a cautious conservative.

In practice, the measure will do little to change how the country is run: Saudi Arabia's rulers allow elections only for half of the seats on municipal councils which have few powers. Only men will vote at the next elections which will take place next week; women will be allowed to vote in 2015.

The king did not address broader issues of women's rights in a country where women are not allowed to drive and require a male relative's permission to work or leave the country.

But the announcement was hailed by liberals and activists who said it raised hopes that other demands for greater democratic and social rights might one day be met.

"This is great news," said Saudi writer and women's rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider. "Women's voices will finally be heard. Now it is time to remove other barriers like not allowing women to drive cars and not being able to function, to live a normal life without male guardians."
It appears that the so-called "Arab Spring" is still alive and well.

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Photo: Stringer/Reuters