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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has one of the most tightly controlled political systems in the world despite having implemented some modest reforms, including the introduction of the Kingdom’s “Basic Law” in 1992; the holding of municipal elections in 2005; and the enfranchisement of women in 2015. Ordinary Saudis lack protections for the exercise of basic civil rights, including speech and association, and have limited opportunity to participate in the political process at the national level.
However, there is some space for citizen participation at the local level. Since 2003, NDI has worked with Saudi citizens to help them create local initiatives and engage with local government officials to improve their communities. Participants have successfully opened community centers and libraries, mobilized volunteers to clean up public areas, and lobbied their municipal councilors to consider local projects. NDI has also worked directly with elected municipal councillors--the only Saudi decision-makers with a democratic mandate--to help them fulfill their roles and responsibilities.
In 2015, after years of advocacy to expand women’s rights, Saudi women were permitted to participate as voters and candidates in municipal elections. Several NDI participants ran for local council seats, with more managing electoral campaigns or conducting voter education activities in their communities. Following these historic elections, which ushered in the first elected women in Saudi history, NDI’s focus is on training active Saudi citizens to engage with their newly elected councils, as well as building new councilors’ capacity to serve constituents effectively.
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NDI's work upholds the idea that democracy is a human right – a principle enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But it's a human right that many around the world still struggle to attain. You can be part of the solution. Join the movement for democracy.