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Saudi Arabia Elects First Women To Public Office

Photo: AP Photo/Aya Batrawy
It's been a monumental weekend for women in Saudi Arabia. After historic elections allowed women to vote and run for office for the first time in the Persian Gulf nation, initial reports show that at least five — and as many as 19 — Saudi females have been elected to public office. While results are still coming in and the exact number of women elected thus far remains unclear, the news is inarguably remarkable for a patriarchal country that has been called one of the most restrictive in the world for women.

Out of 130,000 female registered voters, a staggering 106,000 — that's roughly 82% — cast ballots in the Saudi Arabian elections on Saturday, General Election Commission spokesman Hamad Al-Omar told the Associated Press. But men still dominated in terms of turnout. More than 1.35 million men had registered to vote in the country and 44%, or almost 600,000, actually showed up to cast their ballots.

While little information has been released about the specific women who've been elected to their local municipal councils, Osama al-Bar, the mayor of Mecca, told the AP that in a village called Madrakah, located about 93 miles north of the sacred city, female candidate Salma al-Oteibi had won a seat. Additional sources compiled by CBS News report that Lama al-Suleiman was elected in Saudi Arabia's second largest city of Jiddah, Hinuwf al-Hazmi was elected in the northern region of al-Jawf, and Mona el-Emery and Fadhila al-Attawy were elected in the northwestern region of Tabuk.

Gaining the right to vote marked "the beginning" of greater rights for women in Saudi Arabia. Jiddah resident Sahar Hassan Nasief, who voted for the first time this weekend alongside three generations of female family members, told the news outlet. "I walked in and said, 'I've have never seen this before. Only in the movies.' It was a thrilling experience."