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Lama Al-Sulaiman and Nashwa Taher who created history by getting elected to the JCCI board in the historic elections. (Photo: Arab News)


Women Create History in JCCI Poll
Maha Akeel, Arab News



JEDDAH, 1 December 2005 — Two women — Lama Al-Sulaiman and Nashwa Taher — created history yesterday by winning election to the board of directors of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry

In highly surprising and exciting results to the extremely competitive elections, the Lejeddah group, which included Lama Al-Sulaiman and Nashwa Taher, swept the 12 seats in the elections. A total of 17 women ran in the historic elections, but no one expected any of them to win. It was the first time ever that women were elected to the JCCI board.

“I’m excited and exhausted,” Al-Sulaiman told Arab News. “I’m still in a shock. I worked hard and went for a win but I also gave myself a leeway so as not to be disappointed if I didn’t win.” She hopes that by winning she would be able to do her part as a businesswoman on the board and help in opening the door for future participation of women in business.

Taher, who helps run a group of family companies with interests ranging from foodstuffs to contracting, said, “This means there is trust (in women). Professionalism is very important ... And this is my message to Saudi women: Take your work seriously, without forgetting your role as a mother and wife.”

“We should give them (women) a chance because they have little representation in society,” one male voter had said on Tuesday, adding that he had voted for four women.

Taher, 44, attributed her success to the support of both her parents and husband, as well as her own perseverance.

The fact that women, who previously were entitled only to vote for the Jeddah chamber’s board, stood as candidates “was also an unique event which contributed to making this election unusual,” said Othman Basaqr, a member of a task force which assisted the elections committee.

“This is what everybody seems to be telling me,” Al-Sulaiman said when asked if she felt she had made history.

Many observers of the elections expected members of the Lejeddah group to win most of the seats due to their early start and well organized campaign. The group listed six nominees under the commerce sector and six under the industrialist sector. They ran on a seven-point platform: Developing Jeddah’s economic environment, supporting small establishments, reviewing and facilitating government procedures, supporting businesswomen, supporting Saudization, supporting the chamber’s initiatives nationally and internationally, and developing the chamber administratively and technically. 

The final tally of the votes was: Under commerce sector — Ziyad Al-Bassam with 1,475 votes, Mohammed Al-Fadhl 1,248, Lama Al-Sulaiman 1,138, Nashwa Taher 1,015, Sami Bahrawi 943 and Abdul Ghani Sabbagh with 920 votes. 

Under the industrialist sector the tally was — Mohammed Jameel with 1,946 votes, Saleh Binladin 1,658, Mazin Batarji 1,389, Abdullah Al-Muallimi 13,48, Mohyeddin Kamil 1,320 and Saleh Al-Turki with 1,268 votes. 

The Lejeddah group made a statement thanking God for their success, the voters for their confidence and the team members for their hard work. They also thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for providing the opportunity for the citizens to serve the commercial and industrial sectors. They thanked Makkah region governor, the minister of commerce and the public for their support, especially of women, and they reitgerated their commitment to the country’s Islamic values.

The final tally of the votes was not announced until the early hours of yesterday morning. Although the counting of the votes was electronically done except for the last 120, the unprecedentedly large number of voters contributed to the delay in the announcement which everyone expected to be made by Tuesday evening. 

Five of the winners are members of the previous board of directors. The other seven are new to the board. The Ministry of Commerce will appoint six members to the 18-member board. This election was distinguished in being the first to include women candidates, to have the largest number of candidates and attracting the largest number of voters ever.

Some 21,000 members of the Jeddah chamber, or about half the total membership, were eligible to take part in the polls. Election officials said both the turnout and the number of candidates were a record in the chamber’s 60-year history.

In their campaigns, both Al-Sulaiman and Taher vowed to back a center that assists businesswomen and to help women working from home.

Victory “means we will have more work ... There’s a lot for us to learn, but I’m sure we will manage,” said Al-Sulaiman, who holds a doctorate in nutrition from King’s College in London.

Reprinted with permission of Arab News.

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