Middle East

Saudi’s first women councillors get media exposure

Saudi councillor for the Red Sea port of Jeddah, Lama Al-Sulayman (R) at a polling station Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Saudi councillor for the Red Sea port of Jeddah, Lama Al-Sulayman (right)

Since their historic election last week, some of Saudi Arabia's first-ever female politicians have been propelled from near-anonymity into the glare of the media spotlight.

Several of the 20 new female councillors have already appeared on TV, and in magazines, newspapers and the online press, and are quickly having to adjust to the unprecedented attention.

After Rasha Hifzi, a prominent businesswoman, won a seat in Jeddah, she was interviewed by CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

While excited by her electoral success, Ms Hifzi spoke about the obstacles that she and her fellow female candidates faced during campaigning.

This included, she said, accessing voters among the mainly male business community, since candidates were not allowed to mix with the opposite gender.

Ms Hifzi said her main priority "right now is to improve channels of communication" between council members and citizens.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rasha Hifzi

Lama Al-Sulayman, the only other woman to win in Jeddah, ran a highly professional social media campaign to appeal to a wider group of voters and continues to engage with her audiences.

The businesswoman and British-trained biochemist is an avid user of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. She used the platforms to share video testimonials from Saudi men and women, including videos of women voicing their views on what changes Jeddah "deserved".

She has promised to promote their wishes, including development of new roads and more entertainment centres for families.

Image copyright Al-Sharq al-Awsat
Image caption Khadra al-Mubarak

In Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, Councillor Khadra al-Mubarak told media that she did not seek any fame.

"I aimed through my candidacy… to provide many social benefits to my country in general, and Al-Qatif region in particular."

Image copyright Al-Sharq al-Awsat
Image caption Huda al-Juraysi

After winning a seat in Riyadh's municipal council, Huda al-Juraysi was interviewed by phone on Saudi TV.

She talked about her main priorities, which include a new waste recycling system and accessible public spaces, but fell somewhat short of expectations as she failed to explain how she proposes to go about achieving her goals.

The presenters' questions were not controversial and did not seem to challenge Ms al-Juraysi. She engaged with the presenters with ease and thanked voters for giving her the opportunity to serve their community.

It has not been a smooth ride for all the new women councillors, however.

Aliya al-Ruwayli, a representative from the Riyadh municipal council, grabbed media attention only a day after the election. When a local TV presenter asked her about the main issues facing women and local communities, a very nervous Ms al-Ruwayli only managed to reply: "There are many problems, God willing…"

She then hung up the phone live on TV.

This video was promptly uploaded to YouTube and has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of users.

Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya news website interviewed Mashail al-Sahli, who won a seat in Al-Qasim municipality. She said that municipal work "was not exclusive to men".

Surprisingly - and unlike other news outlets - the website also interviewed her husband, who was supportive of his wife and said he "did not care" about those who opposed her candidacy because of her gender.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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