Oman’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmed Al Khalili, has supported women candidates for the upcoming Shura Council elections, according to local media reports.
The top Muslim cleric, who is 76, and has held the position since 1978, also urged voters to avoid voting on the basis of tribal allegiance. He urged them to avoid graft.
Polls are scheduled to take place in October.
“Candidates for this year’s Shura Council must refrain from offering bribes to get votes. It is against Islamic teaching and immoral,” Sheikh Al Khalili said, adding that he hoped voters would “look past tribal affiliations when they go to the polls,” a report in The National quoted him as saying.
“Vote for any candidate who you think can serve you best. Those who normally go for the members of their own tribes should stop doing so. It is an open vote and a privilege to all,” the Grand Mufti said.
In a rare political statement, he said women have the right to hold public office and men need to move past sexist attitudes and vote for women.
“It would be wrong for voters to think women cannot use good judgement in the running of our affairs,” said Sheikh Ahmed.
In 1992, Oman’s ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said, now 71, created a council called the Majlis Al Shura, whose 84 members are elected by constituents in 61 districts. The council can advise on public matters but has no legislative powers. This year, 26 women have registered for the Council’s election and will compete against 500 men to get elected for a three-year term.
However, this is not the first time women are standing for elections: Two women have served on the council in 2002 and 2005 but there is no female member in the current term. Women say it is difficult to garner male votes as men tend to vote for one another.
“It is a timely argument by Sheikh Ahmed to plead our case. We are as good and as educated as men and we can serve everyone. Not to mention that only women understand women’s problems such as maternity leave, child raising, coping with divorces and widowhood,” Sharifa Al Hinai told The National. She is one of 11 women candidates vying for a seat from the capital, Muscat.
The Ministry of Interior, too, is supporting women’s candidacies, and urging men not to exclude them in their voting.
Apart from ensuring women’s equal participation in the electoral process, Oman has to contend with candidates bribing voters and people voting on the basis of tribal allegiance.
An Interior Ministry official, who asked not to be named, welcomed Sheikh Ahmed’s statement and also asked voters to look beyond gender and tribal links. “Offering bribes will disqualify the candidate this time and we are taking this very seriously,” the official said.
(Muna Khan of Al Arabiya can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)