30 stars join the Shura Council
Surprise decision admits women to institution for first time
King Abdullah, ever since assuming power, has been keen to gradually develop his country and is well aware of the need to promote women’s stature and consolidate their presence in public affairs. In fact, his words, decrees and policies all testify to his commitment in this regard, as he has long been an advocate and supporter of women’s rights. During his reign, Saudi women have made a huge impact on their country’s history. They are now far more independent and are seeking to remove what remains of any obstacles hindering their influence as well as their social presence, whether in the current systems or institutions or any other areas that could obstruct progress.
30 women have now entered the Shura Council at the same time. They are fully equal to their male peers in terms of rights, duties and responsibilities in the council. In fact, these women “will enjoy full rights of membership, be committed to their duties, responsibilities and assume their jobs”, as stipulated by the royal decree.
These Saudi women now represent something of a vanguard; they will have to support their female peers and raise their voice to rectify any defect or shortcoming – in any of their country’s institutions – that could harm women’s rights, because they are effectively expressing half of Saudi society. In addition to this, they must also actively participate in all matters and regulations that are put forth for deliberation in the council, on equal footing with their male peers.
The phenomenon of progress and prosperity in human history has never been characterized by a single example that can be instantly applied elsewhere, regardless of differences imposed by different civilizations and historic courses. Rather, the process is about conscious, malleable policies, and the ability to galvanise a nation’s expertise, regardless of any inherent contradictions, in order to steer the country towards a better future.
The importance of the Saudi royal decree lies in the historic moment it was issued. In the era of the so-called Arab Spring, with its great international momentum and a media frenzy portraying the phenomenon as some sort of “salvation”, there are two prevailing schools of thought: There are those who believe the Western model, with its deserved advancements and historical framework, is the only option for success. Yet there are others who believe that historical and geographical experiences, the different mindsets of nations, and the level of cultural advancement all must be taken into account. This is especially apparent when it comes to politics and the leadership of society. Advocates of the second school of thought would argue that not all past experiences can be combined into a single model that is applicable everywhere and at any time, as some contemporary scholars try to claim with democracy. They view elections as the only way forward, and consider the counting of votes to be the sole route to salvation. In fact, this theory reflects the fact that these scholars have misunderstood a concept as broad as democracy, contenting themselves with only part of it. They are advocating empty democratic mechanisms at a time when our region is still dominated by historical heritage rather than modern development or civilization.
The Saudi royal decree ensured that different categories of women in Saudi society, from various districts and factions, will be well represented. As a result, wide spectrums of prominent women, who have achieved notable academic and professional successes both locally and internationally, have been nominated. Some of them have been awarded prestigious global awards and have assumed senior positions in international and local institutions. These women have proven their worth through their accomplishments, and now they are in the media limelight.
For those who do not know, the process that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has undertaken in order to promote women’s roles and stature has been an arduous historical struggle. This began in the 1950s, with the government enshrining a woman’s right to education despite strong resistance at that time. This step served to emphasize the beginning of a greater women’s role in the years to come.
The latest royal decree is part of a gradual development strategy that relies on stability as a precondition and guarantee for advancement and continuity. Before issuing the decree, the King consulted prominent jurists both from inside and outside the Council of Senior Ulema, and he also disregarded any obsolete customs that have now become worthless
Saudi history is full of important roles undertaken by women ever since the establishment of the First Saudi state some 300 years ago. Here we can recall the examples of Modi, the wife of the first imam of the Saudi state Mohammed Bin Saud, as well as “Ghaliyya al-Wahhabiyya”, the fierce fighter who led armies and defeated enemies, along with many others. Today we can consider the 30 women who have been appointed to the Shura Council, in view of the roles they have performed and the successes they have achieved. They are 30 new bright stars in the Saudi sky who will not only go down in the Kingdom’s history, but will also pave the way for younger Saudi women currently enrolled in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ scholarship program.
In Saudi Arabia there are many successful and creative women, and 30 of them have been appointed to the current round of the Shura Council. Other women will soon have their turn, whether in the council or in other fields, now that the door has been opened wide for them.
We hope for more gradual and calculated developments, rather than jumping into the abyss of the unknown. Congratulations to all the women of the kingdom.