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Saudi Women Demand Voting Rights

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(Bloomberg) — Activists among Saudi Arabia’s women, who can’t drive or vote and need male approval to work and travel, are turning to the type of online organizing that helped topple Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak to force change in a system they say treats them like children.

The “Baladi” or “My Country” campaign is focused on this year’s municipal elections, only the second nationwide ballot that the absolute monarchy has allowed. The election board yesterday said women will be excluded from the Sept. 22 vote. Another group, the Saudi Women’s Revolution, citing inspiration from the Arab activism that grew into revolts against Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is pressing for equal treatment and urging international support.

“Women will not participate in this session,” Abdul- Rahman al-Dahmash, director of the kingdom’s electoral commission, said at a press conference yesterday, referring to the municipal balloting. “There is a plan, though not with a definite time, to put in place a framework so that women can participate in upcoming elections.”

Those are among the goals of the Women’s Revolution group, which began as an exchange of Twitter messages among likeminded women, and now has more than 2,000 Facebook supporters. “Women are treated like minors, except if they commit a crime,” the group said in a statement on Facebook. “Then they are equal.”

Alia al-Faqih, 19, said this year’s Arab revolts inspired her to join the group and demand change in her country.

“The protesters in Egypt and Tunisia did something that was almost impossible,” she said in a telephone interview from Jeddah. “If they could bring down two tough presidents, why can’t we demand our rights?”

Click here for the Baladi Facebook page that was started by the Saudi women mentioned in this article.

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