In a first, Saudi king swears in women members of Shura council

Published: February 19, 2013

This television grab shows women members of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council. PHOTO: AL ARABIYA

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Tuesday swore in the country’s first female members of the Shura Council, an appointed body that advises on new laws, in a move that has riled conservative clerics in the Islamic monarchy.

Abdullah, who has not been seen on television since shortly after a back operation in November, was shown on state media sitting in a palace chamber to give a short speech as he swore in 30 new council members.

King Abdullah is seen as having pushed to cautiously advance the role of women in Saudi society.

The health of the king, who turns 90 this year, is closely watched in the world’s top oil exporter because he has the final say on policy.

Major speeches in recent months have been made on Abdullah’s behalf by his heir, Crown Prince Salman. State media have also listed Salman as chairing the weekly cabinet sessions in place of the king.

“Your place in the Shura Council is not as those who have been honoured, but as those who have been charged with a duty, as you represent part of society,” he said, addressing the new women members who sat in the same chamber as 130 of their male colleagues as they were collectively sworn in.

One fifth of the new Shura Council are women. The decision to appoint women to the body, which functions in place of an elected parliament, was announced in 2011 but their names were only made public last month.

The Shura Council is remodelling parts of its chamber to ensure strict gender segregation between members.

Saudi Arabia’s government is entirely appointed by the king, who is also prime minister. The country’s only elections are for half the seats on municipal councils that have few powers.

Women will also have the right to vote and stand for office in the next municipal ballot, Abdullah said in 2011.

The decision to appoint women to the Shura Council prompted a protest by dozens of conservative clerics outside the royal court in January.

They complained that the move, and other reforms aimed at making it easier for women to work, went against sharia law.

In the ultra-conservative kingdom, women are banned from driving and need the consent of a male “guardian” to work, travel abroad or open a bank account.

Reader Comments (14)

  • Stranger
    Feb 19, 2013 - 9:57PM

    Giant step for the Arab world.

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  • John B
    Feb 19, 2013 - 10:28PM

    A step in the right direction. It remains to be seen how they discharge the King’s desire “Your place in the Shura Council is not as those who have been honoured, but as those who have been charged with a duty”.

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  • kaalchakra
    Feb 19, 2013 - 10:53PM

    I hope all those who accuse Islam of being misogynist will now eat their words.

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  • Arijit Sharma
    Feb 19, 2013 - 11:08PM

    @kaalchakra: ” … I hope all those who accuse Islam of being misogynist will now eat their words … “

    3rd woman from the right. What do you see ?

    But a very bold step non-the-less.

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  • Saleem
    Feb 20, 2013 - 2:03AM

    Congratulations! They have moved from the stone age to the Iron age. Still a couple of thousand years behind the civilised world. By the time they reach the 21st century the rest of the world will be in the 30th century.

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  • Durrani
    Feb 20, 2013 - 2:47AM

    He is slowly moving his society in the right direction, but outside his country, he is happy to bankroll the ideology that brainwashed a man to shoot Malala Yusufzai and has ruined the lives of women across the muslim world.

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  • Cacha
    Feb 20, 2013 - 10:38AM

    @Arijit Sharma.. What do you want to say “Third women from the right”? the women is doing complete Niqab according to Islamic Law.. There is nothing wrong with it man

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  • Ravi
    Feb 20, 2013 - 12:55PM

    @saleem – spot on hahaa

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  • ali baba
    Feb 21, 2013 - 2:06AM

    @Saleem:
    no the rest of the world would be living on Mars .

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  • ali baba
    Feb 21, 2013 - 2:09AM

    what a JOKE.

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  • ali baba
    Feb 21, 2013 - 2:10AM

    what a joke

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  • Dinky Mind
    Feb 21, 2013 - 11:42AM

    @Arijit Sharma: Whats wrong in that? If you choose to wear shorts, she chooses to wear a niqab and practice her religion fully.

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  • Nobody
    Feb 21, 2013 - 2:44PM

    @Cacha:
    There is no complete niqab required in Islamic law, that’s a cultural alteration. Go over your facts. While it’s her choice if she wants to wear it for cultural reasons, it doesn’t make for a professional outfit no matter how you look at it.

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  • Janice Tufte
    Feb 25, 2013 - 11:33AM

    Alhamdulilah this is one giant step for mankind.

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