Islamists make strong showing in Saudi election

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The Independent Online

Candidates backed by conservative clerics did well in the final stage of Saudi Arabia's landmark municipal elections, according to results released yesterday.

Candidates backed by conservative clerics did well in the final stage of Saudi Arabia's landmark municipal elections, according to results released yesterday.

In the commercial capital of Jeddah, considered one of the most liberal parts of Saudi Arabia, the seven winning candidates appeared on the "golden list" - those recommended by fundamentalist clerics. Five of the six winners in Buraydah, capital of ultra-conservative Qassem province, were backed by the clerics, and Islamist candidates also did well in the holy city of Medina.

Last month and in February, many Islamists also won seats during municipal council voting elsewhere.Though they will have significant influence over local politics, the government can still appoint half of all council seats.

"We are an Islamic country, and we are Islamists. We will stick to our Islamic values in fulfilling our duties, according to the book and al-Sunnah," said Bassam Jamil al-Khadher, who won in Jeddah, referring to the Koran and the teachings of Mohammed.

He denied there was any co-ordination or a formal list. However, the list of names was circulated on the internet and through mobile phone text messages. "Of course, our respected scholars support us. We are people known for our public service. It is only natural that we will get such support," Mr al-Khadher said.

The Saudi monarchy, an ally of Washington, has come under pressure from the US to implement democratic reforms. But the limited experiment in democracy - only men could vote and run for seats - also appeared an attempt to deflate the militant Islamic movement by bringing Islamists into the system.

Nabil Qamlu, a liberal lawyer who lost to one of Jeddah's "golden" candidates, accused the powerful clergy of interfering in the elections. Some losing candidates were expected to lodge complaints with the election commission, which has largely ignored previous objections.

"This is neither democracy nor equal opportunity," Mr Qamlu said. "Who has given them such power to determine who the electorate should choose? For the next election, I must grow a beard."

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