Last updated: 2 December, 2015

Don’t mention my name: Campaigning Saudi-style

Don't go inside the campaign tent. Don't photograph the visitors close up. Don't mention the candidate's name. This is democracy, Saudi style, three days into the first Saudi Arabian public election campaign open to women.

More than 900 female candidates are vying for places in municipal councils on December 12, but they are vastly outnumbered by thousands of men.

AFP journalists on Tuesday visited a man’s campaign headquarters in a northern district of the capital Riyadh.

Beside a multi-lane road, a white tent the size of a house had been invitingly set up with fake grass, patio chairs, flower pots and a wood fire in an elaborate tray.

About 10 men in crisp white thobes and red-and-white shemagh head coverings relaxed on traditional cushions set up against the tent wall.

They greeted each other with light pecks on the cheek, and later disappeared into a smaller adjacent tent for sunset prayers before resuming their places on the cushions, with low tables before them.

Waiters carried trays of water and an ornate pot of Arabic coffee, which is drunk steaming hot from miniature cups without handles.


“It’s time. Your vote is your way of making your voice heard,” said illuminated billboards hanging above two ultra-luxurious Bentley cars parked at the roadside.

The signs carried the candidate’s name but he told AFP he didn’t want it mentioned because he worried about violating rules in the campaign.

For similar reasons the candidate, a portly man, forbid close-up pictures of his visitors and would not allow journalists inside the tent.

Through the tent’s peaked entranceway chairs could be seen set up as if for a meeting.

Such tents — traditional male gathering places in Saudi Arabia — have also been a common way for candidates to get their message across during Saudi elections, which took place twice before, in 2005 and 2011, with only male candidates and voters.

But not everyone can afford a tent.

Some female candidates say they are simply spreading their message through social media.