Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat – The uproar surrounding the Sudanese elections did not prevent the emergence of unique phenomena, and in the midst of it all these two Saudi women marked a new chapter in their lives and in the history of Saudi women. Jehan Falamban and Dina Madani took part in the elections in Sudan as international observers – a task that has never been undertaken by any other Saudi woman before.
Falamban, 36, who is an expert in international relations and works for the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Jeddah, monitored the Sudanese elections with her colleague Dina Madani in what was “a rich experience, as the Sudanese elections formed one of the most complex electoral processes that the world has seen, and around 16.5 million voters are taking part, half of whom have never taken part in a similar electoral process their entire lives.”
This “international observer”, who comes from a country where women do not take part in any official electoral process with the exception of the recent elections for the Saudi Chambers of Commerce, believes that the experience of taking part in monitoring the Sudanese elections is not enough. “We need to be part of more international and regional experiences in monitoring elections in order to gain more knowledge of the electoral process.”
Falamban attributed her desire to observe other electoral processes to the need to “make comparisons between the diverse cultures and internal conflicts of every country, which will help us in the future in observing international elections.” She added, “Now I have learnt some electoral basics such as how to request to engage in the elections and how to implement this, in addition to listening to the opinions of all participating parties impartially.”
Asked about what she witnessed in the Sudanese electoral process as an international observer, Falamban said that she noticed that the electoral process slowed to a slow pace in some electoral centers due to technical difficulties. She also alluded to the increase in the awareness of the Sudanese public – especially in Khartoum – with regards to the democratic rights that the Sudanese are proud to practice.
The signs of fatigue were apparent on Dina Madani, 27, who, after having finished a number of reports on observing the elections that will be presented to the head of the OIC delegation for observing the elections said, “We went to centers outside of Khartoum in Umdurman and we entered centers scattered around the suburbs.” She highlighted that being in Sudan to observe the elections helped the international observers to look at the real situation clearly and not to confine themselves to the information they would receive from the media which does not portray the entire truth.
Madani, who has a Masters degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the US said, “I have benefited and learnt the basics and the progress of the electoral process and its functions, in addition to the measures taken before, during and after the voting.” She indicated that they received some information before they arrived, which was built upon as soon as they visited the High Commission for the Elections.
In relation to the complexities that surround the Sudanese elections that the media described as confusing, Madani stressed that “the process is being carried out in the right way, despite the complexities of voting that have confused the Sudanese voter, with the exception of some technical matters in bringing the electoral boxes or not opening some electoral centers on time, and as far as we know it has no effect [on the results] particularly as the elections lasted three days.”
“We do not expect to pass the time without any obstacles but the hours are what tire us out as we leave [where we were staying] at 7am and do not get back until 7.30pm. The rest of the process was consistent.”
Falamban makes reference to the warm welcome given by everyday citizens and [political] party members to the participation of two female Saudi Arabian election observers. She said, “Everybody dealt with us openly, and they provided us with all the information that we needed before we could even ask for it from them, and they took the initiative to answer the questions we had in our heads, showing unique cooperation. Women also invited us to attend events that were related to the future of women [in Sudan].”
As for what Falamban and her colleague got out of the experience of observing the Sudanese elections, they both confirmed that they were carrying a great sense of responsibility on their shoulders with regards to representing Saudi Arabia as the first female Saudi Arabian electoral observers to observe a general election in another country. Falamban said, “I consider this participation to be an important point in my life that I will treasure in the far future, and it will be a story that I will tell my children and grandchildren.”
As for her aspirations following this, Falamban said, “I hope that I find the same opportunity in Saudi public and private companies and institutes to support Saudi women – women who have gone to the West in order to receive a higher education.” She also confirmed that Saudi women will not hesitate to represent Saudi Arabia whenever a suitable opportunity arises, whether this is to work as an [electoral] observer or in another field.
Falamban also expressed her admiration of Sudanese women participating in the recent elections, as well as the presence of the first female presidential candidate in Sudan. This comes after Sudan has seen a 25 percent quota for female candidates on the legislative and executive council and, according to Falamban, “they continue to demand more than this, and personally I hope that the quota for female candidates reaches 50 percent.” She also said that she is looking forward to participating in southern Sudan’s referendum on self-determination which is scheduled to take place in 2011.