Municipal Elections Postponed

Saudi Arabia’s upcoming municipal elections are likely to be put off for at least two years, informed sources told Saudi Gazette last week. The elections are scheduled for 2009, but the sources said they might be postponed while the government conducts a study to evaluate the previous cycle. Sounds like a lame excuse, if you ask me. Why is it only now that they are thinking about studying the previous elections and their results? Isn’t this supposed to be an ongoing process since day 1? Why does it sound like an afterthought?

When I voted back in 2005 I thought I was making history. But shortly after the municipal councils were formed, disappointment quickly replaced excitement and pride. News emerged on how religious leaders manipulated elections using so-called “golden lists.” We found the councils to be powerless, handicapped by rigid regulations. Appointing the other half of council members seemed to harm more than help. When public frustration over the performance of the councils made its way to the media, elected members defended themselves saying they could only work within the very limited space given to them.

Earlier this year, five members of Hail municipal council resigned because they felt it was useless to occupy seats with virtually no power. But the resignation which attracted more media attention was that of Abdullah al-Suwailim, member of Riyadh municipal council, who resigned in protest to what he described as violations of Islamic rules during this year’s Eid Al-Fitr festivities in the city, namely: the lack of segregation of single men from families, non-Muslims entertaining audiences and live music that was played in one of the theatrical productions.

It is true that the previous elections were far from perfect and suffered from many notable shortcomings, but putting off the elections is not the answer. Postponing the elections raises serious concerns over the country’s commitment to reform and democratization. I believe that King Abdullah is committed to reform, and this has been obvious in the agenda he has pushed over the past few years. However, many officials show ignorance and indifference to this agenda, as well as a complete disregard to the aspirations of citizens who dare to dream of a better Saudi Arabia.

12 thoughts on “Municipal Elections Postponed

  1. been there. faced the immense bureaucracy. Our project had almost always been delayed by somebody “upstairs” but we did get support from the Shuraa council..
    One name had always cropped up when we are faced with hindrance when I was in Makkah – Nasser Al-Salloum. This Saudi’s former Ministry of Information had somehow became the boss for the Development of Makkah, Madinah, and the Mashair areas.

    Don’t you guys have anyone younger, brighter, and better than Salloum? ;) he he he

    I think you guys should vote for this post too.

  2. While I sympathize with your goals, it should be considered that “the country’s commitment to reform and democratization” may be illusory.

    A government that states that it has a legal system solely based on the rulings of the ulemaa is likely to be incompatible with reform and democratization.

    Surely the members of the ulemaa (who would lose power and prestige) woudl oppose any such reform or democratization.

    And so the question must be posed as to what direct and tangible benefits those in power in the ulemaa would derive from any such reform.

  3. @ Andrew:
    I think you have hit the nail on the head. The religious elite are the issue. I think there are some genuine people in the Saudi government who would like reform, and I think Abdullah is amongst them, but even the King can only do so much, and there are lot of people in the mosques who would rather grab the power for themselves than help the Kingdom as a whole. It’s been true for decades and it is very disheartening because it stifles so much potential.

  4. It is the responsability of Saudis to conquer their democracy and their rights. The government is not going to just reform itself and the West won’t do much as long as there is oil flowing…

    It is time for Saudi Activism!

  5. I couldn’t find any additional information regarding the Municipal councilors that resigned. Could you possibly post the link to some article regarding this issue.

    Thank you

  6. I hope the rumours that the 2009 municipal elections will be postponed turn out to be not true.

    I too voted for the first time ever in the Saudi municipal elections in 2005, and I was also very disappointed with the results.

    It seems that the Saudi government was just going through the motions of introducing a bit of democracy into the kingdom, but without much enthusiasm or thought. The result were councils dominated by religious conservatives, whom we must admit were better organized than the liberals.

    Most Saudis pretty soon realized that powers of municipal councils to undertake change were severely limited.

    What we really need is a Shoura Council with teeth, with the power to pass legislation and grill government officials, including ministers of state. If we could elect at least half of the members of such a council, just maybe then the Saudi people could have their voices heard in the decision-making process.

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