December 22, 2015

Between Popular Representation and the State: The Politics of Municipal Council Elections in the GCC

The participation and election of women in Saudi Arabia’s December 2015 municipal elections have drawn international attention and assertions of progress for women’s empowerment in the kingdom. Yet any assessment of the significance of this noteworthy milestone needs to consider the role of municipal councils and their contribution to political dynamics in Saudi Arabia, and in the Arab Gulf states more generally.

Municipal councils are among the earliest civil institutions in the Gulf region. This objective study of their history and political significance reveals three distinct periods which constitute a cyclical rise and fall of popular municipal governance. It also identifies four political dynamics that characterize the current revival of popular input into municipal governance.