Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday it will hold municipal elections next month after a delay of a year and a half that had angered rights activists.
In a setback to reform advocates, the voting on April 23 will not be open to women.
The kingdom held its first municipal elections in 2005, the first elections ever held under the absolute monarchy. The councils have little power, but many Saudis jumped at the chance for even a small voice in politics and saw the elections as a sign the conservative kingdom was ushering in a new era of reform. Half the seats are elected while the rest are appointed.
The second such elections had been scheduled for Oct. 31, 2009, but the government delayed them, saying it needed time to expand the electorate and study the possibility of allowing women to vote. Rights activists were skeptical of the explanation and called the delay a setback to their push to open the country's politics to the people.
In January, a group of Saudi activists launched a campaign on social networking websites to push the kingdom to allow women to vote and run in the municipal elections.
But the Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs, which is in charge of the elections, said last week that women will not vote this year because of the kingdom's social customs.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, follows deeply conservative social traditions and adheres closely to a strict version of Islam. Despite attempts by King Abdullah to push through some social reforms, women still cannot drive and the sexes are segregated in public.
The announcement of a new election date by electoral commission director Abdul-Rahman al-Dahmash coincided with rumblings of dissent in Saudi Arabia stemming from the wave of political unrest in the Arab world. King Abdullah pledged roughly $93 billion in financial support measures for Saudis in an attempt to quiet the discontent.
(This version CORRECTS that delay was year and a half).)