RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi King Abdullah announced Sunday that the nation's women will gain the right to vote and run as candidates in local elections to be held in 2015 in a major advancement for the rights of women in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.
In an annual speech before his advisory assembly, or Shura Council, the Saudi monarch said he ordered the step after consulting with the nation's top religious clerics, whose advice carries great weight in the kingdom.
"We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society and in every aspect, within the rules of Sharia," Abdullah said, referring to the Islamic law that governs many aspects of life in the kingdom.
The right to vote is by far the biggest change introduced by Abdullah, considered a reformer, since he became the country's de facto ruler in 1995 during the illness of King Fahd. Abdullah formally ascended to the throne upon Fahd's death in August 2005.
The kingdom's great oil wealth and generous handouts to citizens have largely insulated it from the unrest sweeping the Arab world. But the king has taken steps to quiet rumblings of discontent that largely centered on the eastern oil-producing region populated by the country's Shiite Muslim minority.