JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A group of Saudi women have turned up at a voter registration office in a rare public protest against the male-only electoral system, one of the activists told AFP early Sunday.

"We want to make our voices heard," Nayla Attar, a businesswoman among a small group of activists, told AFP after making a symbolic attempt Saturday to register for upcoming local elections in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

She said they wanted to be involved in public life and be heard.

The head of the voter registration centre "politely" turned down their applications to vote at the September municipal council elections after reminding them that women were still prohibited from voting, she said.

Women in Saudi Arabia are also banned from driving and cannot travel without being authorised by a male guardian. When in public, they have to cover from head to toe.

The defiant attempt to register came after calls on social media networks for Saudi women to assert their rights, and against their exclusion from public life, after the electoral commission said women will continue to be excluded.

Police on Saturday have dispersed a small gathering of women in the Eastern Province and briefly detained two of them, witnesses said.

Municipal elections, which are the only form of public voting in Saudi Arabia, are slated for September 22.

In May 2009, the Saudi government extended the term of municipal councils by two years. The kingdom's first vote was in 2005 to elect half the members of the 178 municipal councils while the rest were appointed by the government.