Democracy with an asterisk

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Saudi Arabia Views: 3318
3318

At long last, the light of reform is beginning to shine over Saudi Arabia. Nationwide elections, the first in the Kingdom's history, are going to be held. The elections are set to begin next February and will last until April. Voters are going to choose half of the members of the 178 municipal councils. At long last, democracy is coming to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But, there is a catch. There will be democracy--with an asterisk. 

Women will not be allowed to run for elections or vote themselves. Interior Minister Prince Naif announced such on October 11. According to the Associated Press, an electoral official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that there are not enough women to run "women-only" registration and polling centers. Moreover, very few women have the photo identity cards needed to cast their vote, because many of them did not want to have their faces unveiled on the cards. 

Yet, women were not barred solely because of administrative and logistical inadequacies. According to the General Committee for Municipal Elections, women cannot run for office because the law says only a muwatin can participate. The word muwatin means "citizen," and although the Arabic word is itself male-gendered, the meaning usually encompasses both males and females. Not so, according to the government. Since the law did not specifically state muwatinas, or female citizens, are allowed to participate, women therefore cannot vote.

How extremely disappointing. It is astonishing to me that the Saudi government would bar the participation of approximately 43% of its adult population on a legal technicality. Now, some may respond by saying that we in the United States had to amend the constitution more than four decades later so that women can be allowed to vote. That's true. Yet, the United States of America is not governed by the laws of Islam. From its very beginnings, the right of women to vote has been enshrined in Islamic law. 

The Qur'an praises the believers because they run their affairs by shura, or mutual consultation. There is no legal hair-splitting in the verse. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) took bay'ah, or an oath of allegiance, from both men and women, and voting is the modern-day equivalent of yesteryear's bay'ah. The Qur'an, in fact, specifically mentions the bay'ah of women: "O Prophet when believing women come to you to pledge allegiance to you..." (Quran 61:12). If God gave women the right to vote, how could the Saudi government take that right away?

I truly hope the Saudi government reconsiders its decision. Denying women the right to vote is not only unfair, but it goes against Islamic tradition. If there are not enough "women-only" polling places, then delay the elections until ones can be set up. If there are not enough women election workers, then issue a call for such workers, and I am sure many will enthusiastically respond. If Afghanistan can successfully include women in the electoral process, then surely Saudi Arabia--with its vast wealth from oil--can do the same. Not having enough "women-only" polling stations is not an excuse. Full participation by all citizens, both male and female, is the quintessential essence of democracy, and Islam calls for nothing less. Democracy should never come with an asterisk.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is author of "Why I Love the Ten Commandments," published in the book Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith (Rodale Press), winner of the prestigious Wilbur Award for 2003 Best Religion Book of the Year by the Religion Communicators Council.


  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Saudi Arabia
Views: 3318

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Older Comments:
ZINEDINE FROM MOROCCO said:
Salaamu alaikum,

I made a typo in my last statement & I wish to correct it by editing my comments:

I do personally believe that the Saudi government does as much damage to Islam & Muslims as Israel & the US do. The only difference is that Israel & the US attack us like wild beasts & the Saudi gov walk over us like a blind camel. In other words, The Saudi gov that claims to be Salafis are far from it. They do us a lots of harm by misrepresenting Islam & as a result give a really bad image of this great deen making us subjects to hate & prosecution overseas. Doesn't the Saudi gov's attitude ring the bell? Isn't George W doing the same to the Americans of the diaspora. Don't extremists on both side add fuel to fire & make the hate spin go on & on? & who pays the price but average Joe & average Muhammad.

The defamation of character of Muhammad, Moses & Jesus are one common denominator the Wahhabi Saudis, the Zionists Israelis & the Christian Armaggadonist Anerican have in common. I won't be surprised if someone calls Israel, the US & Saudi Arabia the Axis of Evil because they do fit the label. It is unfortunate that this big three have a huge influence on world affairs.

This reminds me of the Arabic saying: " When the public affairs are run but those who are NOT qualified for the job, then expect the end of the world".




2004-11-09

ZINEDINE FROM MOROCCO said:
Salaamu alaikum,

Can you believe that Ibnu Rushd (aka Avoroes 11th century CE who is one of the biggest scholars of all times renowned in the East & the West) said that if we Muslims do not treat our women as equals, our civilisation will eventually become insignificant. No comments on this one.

I do personally believe that the Saudi government does as much damage to Islam & Muslims as Israel & the US do. The only difference is that Israel & the US attack us like wild beasts & the Saudi gov walk over us like a blind camel. In other words, The Saudi gov that claims to be Salafis (they are far from it) do us a lots of harm by misrepresenting Islam & as a result give a really bad image of this great deen making us the subjects of hate & prosecution. Doesn't the Saudi gov's attitude ring the bell? Isn't George W doing the same to the Americans of the diaspora. Don't extremists on both side add fuel to fire & make the hate spin go on & on?

The defamation of character of Muhammad, Moses & Jesus are one common denominator Wahhabi Saudis, the Zionists Jews & the Christian Armaggadonists have in common. I won't be surprised if someone calls Israel, the US & Saudi Arabia the Axis of Evil because they do fit label. It is unfortunate that this big three have a huge influence on world affairs. As the Arabic saying goes: " When the public affairs are run but those who are qualified for the job, expect the end of the world".
2004-11-09

DINO DEMARS FROM YEMEN said:
The author writes 'If Afghanistan can successfully include women in the electoral process, then surely Saudi Arabia...'. Does anybody think that Afghanistan would have included women in their elections if left to their own devices?
2004-11-09

FAROOQ HUSSAINI FROM USA said:
Thank you for your article. We Muslims have our masajids as 'mens only clubs' now we have countries 'men only countries' We need to stop this narrowminded approach towards women and give the women all the God given rights.
2004-11-09

TIM PARSA FROM USA said:
I agree 100% with the this commentary. If there aren't enough women in the country - there are plenty of countries willing to help the Saudis finally vote. Muslim countries can send women delegations to Saudi Arabia to help with the voting process.

Saudis need to leave their traditions and quit oppressing their own people with their version of Islamic laws.
2004-11-09

UMYOUSUF FROM USA said:
Salam
It is astonishing after everything that happens to the muslim Ummah the Saudi still 'choose' to stay behind in reforming their society. Wake up from your sleep the women and men of Saudi.
2004-11-09

AKBAR KHAN FROM CANADA said:
SUBHAN'ALLAH

Hesham Hasseballa, you're the man, :-) and keep writing articles for us. Simple, straightforward, and truthful enough to make people think twice about "assuming" that they are doing something correctly in accordance to Shari'ah, but are in fact going astray.

I support your article.
2004-11-09