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First women win council seat in historic Saudi polls

 Middle East, Sunday

At least two women won municipal council seats in Saudi Arabia’s first ever election open to female voters and candidates, officials said Sunday, in a milestone for the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.

Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi was elected to a council in the holy city of Mecca, the official SPA news agency reported, citing election commission president Osama al-Bar.

She ran against seven men and two women in Saturday’s ballot, he added. A second woman, Hanouf bint Mufrih bin Ayid al-Hazmi, was elected in the northwestern region of Jawf, SPA said, as fresh results were being released on Sunday afternoon.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, including a ban on driving.

It was the last country to allow only men to vote, and polling stations were segregated during the ballot. Among the 6,440 candidates running for seats on 284 councils figured more than 900 women, who had to overcame a number of obstacles to participate in the landmark poll.

Female candidates could not meet face-to-face with male voters during campaigning, while neither men nor women could publish their pictures.

A slow expansion of women’s rights began under King Abdullah who announced four years ago that women would take part in the 2015 municipal elections. Men have voted since 2005 in elections for municipal councils. – AFP

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