Men only take a first hesitant step towards Saudi democracy

One candidate promises to turn his local sewage lake into a jet-ski racing facility. Another has invented an odour-free rubbish bin. Everyone wants to rid local councils of corruption.

Welcome to today's free elections in Saudi Arabia, the first since the country's creation and an extraordinary display of democracy after 70 years of absolute monarchy.

Saudi election poster
A Saudi man stands before an election poster in Riyadh

Although the elections are only for half the seats on the nation's 178 municipal councils, with the rest being allocated by the government, they represent the first hesitant steps towards power sharing by the autocratic and fabulously wealthy House of Saud.

Women still have no vote. The reason cited for not allowing them even a minor say in running the country was that it was "too complicated" to organise separate polling stations.

But the elections represent a fundamental break with tradition in a society run largely on a tribal basis, one where public grievances are filtered through a network of elders.

While election fever has resulted in more than 1,800 candidates standing for just 104 seats in the Riyadh area alone, only 149,000 men out of 400,000 eligible voters have registered to vote.

The wave of enthusiasm that swept the country when the election was announced last year rapidly dissipated when it emerged that women would not be taking part and that real power would remain with unelected council members.

Voter apathy and the need to pay for their own campaigns has, however, hardly dented the zeal of the candidates.

Posters of grim-faced, turbaned candidates decorate roadside hoardings. Their glossy manifestos, devoid of babies, children, women and animals but promising the earth, are slipped through car windows at traffic lights.

Most of them run their campaigns from Bedouin tents, many the size of tennis courts, that they have erected on waste ground across the city.

Draped in coloured lights, fires blazing, some have camels or sheep tethered outside - the former to demonstrate the candidates' "grass roots" connections, the latter to be slaughtered and eaten at the evening's feast.

Serious campaigning only starts after 8.00 pm, when work and afternoon naps are completed, and goes on until at least midnight.

For Bandar al-Saleh, a real-estate developer with matinee-idol looks and the patter of a seasoned politician, this involves enticing an audience with the promise of a free meal and copious amounts of tea.

The Saudi equivalent of a Green, he has even invented a means of disposing of rubbish via a tube to the bin to reduce smells and a magnetic device, similar to those used on supermarket trolleys, to prevent householders pushing their giant rubbish containers on to a neighbour's property - a common complaint. When his talk is over the audience asks questions which often have little to do with the subject at hand.

"What do you intend to do about corruption?" asked a man squatting at the back. "What about the rubbish that spills out of my bin in the summer and stinks out the street?" asked another.
About bloody time. Is this the domino effect or are just wishful thinking?

Well we have the pesimists view :twisted: Now everyone else? :D

please expand CP


Book Reviewer
Afraid to say, I agree with CP. This is where that Al Qu'ida bloke gets most of his support from, after all. But given one-person one-vote, I wonder who'd win there? Quite possibly Arabs (especially Saudis) are in the minoroty there - it may be that the majority of people there over voting age are Philipino, Bengali, or Indian :?

Must be only a matter of time until the place boils over, and if they think that the Yanks are going to let them go fundamentalist, they're more short-sighted than even I thought. They've got away with appalling Human Rigts breaches, etc., for years, as they happen to breed over a lot of oil-bearing strata.
If Saudi goes all fundamental, Iraq goes all religious and Iran does get nukes, we are all seriously F*&CKED! If anyone has any working solutions on non-fossil fuels that they have not already patented, I would attend to that toute suite!

The bad news is that, failing that, we will all be going to the Antartic to dig that place up. The good news is that, if my understanding is correct (and I have been wrong in the past!), the majority of antartica (to the tune of about 75%) is owned by UK. And, geological surveys suggest the mineral wealth down there makes the middle east oil fields look like a small puddle! Now wouldn't that be a turn up for the books? We could be the richest nation on earth! (I bet they would still cut the defence budget though!)
It hardly qualifies as a new dawn of reason for the ragheads. Only Saudi males get to vote, and then for only half of the minor municipal posts. It's partial democracy at local government level. All meaningful power remains firmly in the hands of the numerous, fat, oxygen-thieves of the House of Saud. Having lived among the to**ers, I will shed no tears when it all turns to ratshi* for them. Feck them all.

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