In a historic announcement Sunday, King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, said that he was giving Saudi women the right to vote and run in municipal elections as well as the right to join the Shoura Council as members. The King made these announcements in an address opening a new term of the Shoura Council.
"Starting with the next term, women will have the right to run in municipal elections and to choose candidates, according to Shariah," King Abdullah said amid applause from Shoura members.
Saudi women will be able to run and cast ballots in the 2015 municipal elections, as the next vote is due to take place Thursday and nominations for those are already in.
"We have decided that women will participate in the Shoura Council as members starting the next term," the King also said.
"The Muslim woman... must not be marginalized in opinion or advice," said King Abdullah.
"Because we reject the marginalization of women's role in society in every field of work according to Shariah, and after consulting our Ulema, we have decided the following:
First: Women's participation as members of the Shoura Council as of the next session, according to Shariah.
Second: As of the next session, women will have the right to nominate themselves to become members of municipal councils and they have the right to participate in nominating candidates, according to Shariah.
"More than 5,000 men will compete in Thursday's municipal elections, only the second in Saudi Arabia's history, to fill half the seats in the Kingdom's 285 municipal councils. The other half are appointed by the government.
The first elections were held in 2005, but the government extended the existing councils' term for two years.
Shoura Council had recommended allowing women to vote in the next local polls, officials have said. "This is great news," Wajeha Al-Huwaider, a Saudi writer and women's rights activist told a news agency. "Women's voices will finally be heard," she said.
"Women's involvement in the councils was necessary. Maybe after women join there will be other changes," Naila Attar, who organized a campaign Baladi (Arabic for My Country) calling for women's involvement in the municipal council elections, told a news agency.
"I believe this is a step to involve women in the public sphere. It is the top of the pyramid and a step in the direction for more decisions regarding women," she said.
King Abdullah said: "The balanced modernization that agrees with our Islamic values in which the rights are protected is an important demand in an age where there is no place for the tardy and hesitant.
"All know that Muslim women in our Islamic history have a stance that cannot be marginalized. These include correcting opinion and giving advice since the era of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The evidence for this is that the Prophet (pbuh) consulted the mother of the believers Umm Salamah on Al-Hudaibiah Day. There is much evidences even during the year of the Prophet's companions and those following them until today.
"The struggle of our father King Abdul Aziz, may Allah's mercy be showered on him, was fruitful in unifying the hearts, the land and the single destiny. And today this destiny imposes upon us to safeguard the inheritance. We should not stop at this legacy, but we should increase it by developing it in such a way that it is in conformity with Islamic values and morals," the King said.
"Yes, it is the trust and responsibility toward our religion and the interest of our nation and citizens. We should not stop at the obstacles of the age, but we should have a strong will, patience and we should work hard. Before all these, we should rely on Allah Almighty in facing the challenges."
King Abdullah urged Yemenis to implement the Gulf Initiative.
"We see that the Gulf Initiative is still the way out to resolve the Yemeni crisis and prevent the situation (there) from getting worse," said the King.
"We are sorry to see the violence that has left casualties and I call for self-retraint from all sides and call onto them to use reason to prevent Yemen from the dangers of slipping into more violence," he added.
"The priorities of the Kingdom's foreign policy is to support solidarity and joint work among Muslim countries and upgrade the means of cooperation between them.
The effective participation of the Muslim World will be in the interest of our first cause, the Palestinian issue, and rally international support for it, especially at a time when Palestine has submitted a request for full membership in the UN."
About Iraq the King said: "We look forward to Iraq to remain as an independent and united Arab and Islamic political entity."
The King said in the address: "The stability and unity of our country provide the safety valve after the protection from Allah. We will not allow whatever poses any threat to national unity and social stability.
"Reviving tribalism and playing on the chords of sectarianism besides classifying segments of society contradict the Islamic spirit. Adhering to national unity is a necessity and a priority."