No Women Allowed In Saudi Vote

In the first elections in more than 40 years, Saudis in the nation's capital Riyadh are campaigning for a new city council — a baby step towards reform and democracy.

As CBS News Correspondent Sheila MacVicar , there's lots of tea, lots of kisses, but only men. This is not what Saudi women such as Nadia Bakurji had in mind.

"It takes a lot of staying power, guts and determination," Bakurji said.

In Saudi Arabia, women can't drive. So when Bakurji goes out, her oldest son is at the wheel. Despite her lack of privileges, in this election, not only did she want to vote, but stand as a candidate too.

"I thought I was doing my government a favor because I don't think they could have said, out-and-out, 'Come on women, come forward,'" Bakurji said.

But before the election, there was much debate. Hatoon AlFassi, a professor of ancient history, pushed hard.

"On the legal front, we have proven we have the right," AlFassi said. "And this is a big victory."

And, as MacVicar reports, the victory might have been a step too far. Saudis say the government got cold feet, and ordered election organizers to claim the need to segregate women and men made it too difficult for women to run or even vote.

"We missed a historic opportunity," Prince Abdullah bin Faisal al Turki said.

Prince Abdullah is one of the reformers in the ruling family. He believes women voting would have shown commitment to real change.

"But women have been a target for people resisting modernization," he said.

Hatoon AlFassi knows all about that. She got death threats from Islamic hardliners.

"We will cut your head and hang it as an example," AlFassi recited a threat she received.

"I am asking for the emancipation of women and emancipation equals becoming prostitutes," AlFassi said, referring to the mindset of her critics.

Still, if this election is deemed to be a success, women may vote — in four year's time.

"It does seem like a long, long way away, doesn't it?" Bakurji said.

Would it be likely that women will vote, and perhaps stand as candidates, before they are able to drive a car?

"The English have an expression — I don't know if you will allow it on TV — 'I should bloody hope so!'" Prince Abdullah said.

In this kingdom, there's a lot of hope pinned to even limited reform. And some acknowledge, a lot more at stake.

By Sheila MacVicar
  • Christine Lagorio

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