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October 13, 2003
Saudi Arabia to Hold First Elections

In a move that indicates the US is beginning to make a major impact on the Arab world, Saudi Arabia announced its first ever free elections:

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, announced Monday it would hold its first elections to vote for municipal councils, seen as the first concrete political reform in the Gulf Arab state. ... Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States -- in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis -- Riyadh has come under intense pressure by key ally Washington to implement social and political reform in the kingdom which is the cradle of Islam and the world's largest oil exporter. ... "The council of ministers decided to widen participation of citizens in running local affairs through elections by activating municipal councils, with half the members of each council being elected," the state news agency SPA said.

It's not just the election, either; public expression seems to be loosening up as well:

"Our happiness will be complete when there are 100 percent elections," said 38-year-old Saudi citizen Sultan Abdul-Aziz. ... Mohammed al-Harfy, a columnist in al-Watan daily, said he hoped the decision was not a unique move to appease reform calls. "I think this is a positive step because many people in our society have been calling for comprehensive elections, including municipal," he told Reuters. "But this is not enough. We hope these elections are a beginning and would lead to elections in the Shura Council, in universities and the right to form syndicates," he added.
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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 13, 2003 6:47 PM

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