RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Although they are still not allowed to drive, Saudi Arabian women will be appointed members of the parliament and be allowed to run and vote in the municipal elections, King Abdullah said Sunday.

“In Islamic history, women have had roles that cannot be marginalized,” Abdullah told members of the parliament, known as the Shura Council.

“Women will be members of the Shura Council from the next round, and starting the next polls women will be able to run for the municipal elections following Islamic rules.”

The King’s decree is seen as the latest development in what has been known as the “Arab Spring,” during which Saudi activists have campaigned to pressure the king into giving women more rights in the conservative Gulf state.

“We have been waiting for these decisions for such a long time. But late is better than never,” Saudi rights activist Waleed Abul Khair said.

“We wish that women’s right to drive was among those decisions. I just hope it would not have to wait for the king’s speech in front of the new council some years later,” he said.

The Shura Council is the advisory body of the oil-rich kingdom. It has limited powers and cannot pass or enforce laws. All 150 members are appointed by the king. The current term ends in 2013.

Municipal elections are the only elections in Saudi Arabia. However, women may not vote or run as candidates in the municipal elections to be held Thursday.

Saudi Arabia remains the only predominantly Muslim country that has yet to allow women the right to vote or drive. Although there is no law that bans women from driving, licenses are not issued to women.

Samar Badawi said she was the first woman to file a suit against the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs for upholding the ban on women taking part in the local elections.

“Now, we will take the time until the coming elections to raise awareness among women in order to have a wider range of women ready for the polls,” Badawi said.

She said she plans to run for municipal office in four years.

Yet, she is not yet happy with the expansion of women’s role in the country’s political life.

“Can you imagine a woman not being able to go to a government office by herself to finish some paperwork? We want more,” she said.

Saudi women also cannot travel unless they are accompanied by a male guardian or are older than 45. They also need the consent of a father or an elderly male to marry.