First woman is elected to Saudi local council

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Women to Take Part in Saudi Arabia Elections

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday that Salima bint Hazab al-Otaibi had become the first woman elected to public office in the conservative Islamic kingdom after winning a seat on the municipal council in Mecca in Saturday's election.

The election was the first in which women could vote and run as candidates, a landmark step in a country where women are barred from driving and are legally dependent on a male relative to approve almost all their major life decisions.

However, the election was for only two thirds of seats in municipal councils that have no lawmaking or national powers, and follows men-only polls in 2005 and 2011.

Otaibi won a seat in the Madrika district of Mecca, the holiest city of Islam, and where all the other successful candidates were men, the official Saudi Press Agency reported in a list of preliminary results.

Results from Northern Borders Province and the southwestern province of Asir, the only others to have been announced, had no successful women candidates.

Under King Abdullah, who died in January and who announced in 2011 that women would be able to vote in this election, steps were taken for women to have a bigger public role, sending more of them to university and encouraging female employment.

However, while women's suffrage has in many other countries been a transformative moment in the quest for gender equality, its impact in Saudi Arabia is likely to be more limited due to a wider lack of democracy and continued social conservatism.

Before Abdullah announced women would take part in this year's elections, the country's Grand Mufti, its most senior religious figure, described women's involvement in politics as "opening the door to evil".

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First woman is elected to Saudi local council
A Saudi woman casts her ballot at a polling center during municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)
A Saudi woman prepares to vote at a polling center during municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)
Saudi women prepare to vote at a polling center during the country's municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)
A Saudi woman casts her ballot at a polling center during municipal elections, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015 photo, a journalist takes photos at a palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Outside the Saudi capital of Riyadh, in one of the country's most conservative provinces, Jowhara al-Wably is making history by running as a female candidate in upcoming elections. Saturday's vote for municipal council seats marks two milestones for Saudi women: It is the first time women are allowed to vote in a government election and the first time women can run as candidates. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
A Saudi woman casts her ballot at a polling center during municipal elections, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)
A Saudi woman casts her ballot at a polling center during municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)
In this Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 photo, a journalist makes her way in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Outside the Saudi capital of Riyadh, in one of the country's most conservative provinces, Jowhara al-Wably is making history by running as a female candidate in upcoming elections. Saturday's vote for municipal council seats marks two milestones for Saudi women: It is the first time women are allowed to vote in a government election and the first time women can run as candidates. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
An unidentified Saudi professional woman, a journalist, listens to election results in a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Friday Feb. 11, 2005. There are many women professionals in the kingdom who have reached high levels in their careers, but cannot drive themselves to or from work. Some Saudis are trying to change that, but the call has met with strong opposition. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
Saudi women vote at a polling center during municipal elections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Saudi women are heading to polling stations across the kingdom on Saturday, both as voters and candidates for the first time in this landmark election. (AP Photo/Aya Batrawy)
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