In Saudi Arabia, Only Men Vote, And Not Often Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has promised women they can vote in the next election. But on Thursday, it was still only the men who were allowed to cast ballots in municipal elections, and it appeared that few of them chose to do so.
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In Saudi Arabia, Only Men Vote, And Not Often

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In Saudi Arabia, Only Men Vote, And Not Often

In Saudi Arabia, Only Men Vote, And Not Often

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is there. She sent this report.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The clear ballot boxes displayed in the middle of this pristine polling center were not even a quarter full as closing time approached.

ALI ALEQUEILY: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: Did you vote today?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Me?

SARHADDI NELSON: Yeah.

MAN: Yes, yes this one, this one.

SARHADDI NELSON: Another voter was Dr. Mossad. The American-trained surgeon marveled at how quickly he was able to cast his vote. But he, like the polling supervisor, was surprised by the low turnout. Mossad believes one reason voters stayed away is because they were disillusioned with the previous councilman, who advised local government officials on municipal services and development.

MOSSAD: There was not much of improvement, I would say, or even communication because if you try to call him, you cannot find him. But I think this time they are trying to solve it. And I hope they will solve it in the right way.

SARHADDI NELSON: Hamad Saad al-Omar, who is a spokesman for the Saudi Election Committee, says that's exactly what the government is doing. He explains voting is still a new concept here, and that the councils are a work in progress.

HAMAD SAAD AL: We are always aiming for better. Every time we are aiming better and we are learning from our mistakes. The first round, people didn't know the roles of a municipal council.

SARHADDI NELSON: That wasn't enough to satisfy critics like Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani. He heads the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association in Riyadh, which called for a nationwide boycott of the polls. Qahtani says Saudis want a real say in how the affairs of their country are run.

MOHAMMAD FAHAD AL: By the end of the day, you are electing individuals with no mandate and it's just municipal councils. We are ready to elect people in the parliament. And I think the people are waiting for that announcement to come out of the king's speech on the 25th of September. That did not happen.

SARHADDI NELSON: But candidates like Yahya Zahrani criticized the boycott.

YAHYA ZAHRANI: (Foreign language spoken)

SARHADDI NELSON: Twenty-one-year-old Ruba, a college student who asked that only her first name be used to protect her family, was among dozens of Saudi women who had protested over being excluded. They went to registration centers across the country last spring in a failed effort to sign up for the voting.

RUBA: Of course it's disappointing because we demanded this five months ago, and so it was enough time to prepare whatever preparations they had to do.

SARHADDI NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Riyadh.

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