Saudi Arabia: country divided over women in Shura Council

Religious leaders protest, women demand full rights

17 January, 17:16

Saudi king appoints women to parliament for first time Saudi king appoints women to parliament for first time

(ANSAmed) - DUBAI, JANUARY 17 - While the international community hailed Saudi King Abdullah's January 11 decree appointing 30 women to the country's previously all-male Shura Council, or parliament, it sparked differing responses from human rights and religious communities within the ultra-conservative oil kingdom. The king's measure has catapulted Saudi Arabia from 184th to 80th country in the world in terms of female MPs, making it the sixth Arab country and the first in the Gulf in the ranking.

In an unauthorized but un-policed protest at the royal palace, a video of which is now circulating on YouTube, religious groups condemned ''the dangerous changes taking place in the country''. They demanded a meeting with palace officials to ''make them change their minds'', saying the female nominations ''are not representative of society'' and calling for similar parliamentary quotas for religious figures.

Women's groups said having women MPs will provide positive role models and help the country come to terms with women in power, but much remains to be done in their country, where women are not allowed to travel, work, study or marry without male consent.

''It's a good decision, but the issue of women's rights is still 100% unresolved,'' commented leading Saudi feminist Waheja al-Hawidar. ''There are still a lot of laws and restrictions that need to be amended or repealed for women to finally be considered as adults in their day-to-day lives.'' Social media commentators are mostly in favor of the royal decree, which nominated two princesses: Sarah al-Faisal, sister of the current foreign minister and daughter of King Faisal, who died in 1975, and Moodhi, daughter of King Khalid, who died in 1982. Of the 30 nominees, 27 have PhD's.

Set up in 1993 as a non-elected council with no legislative powers, the Shura has on occasion been consulted by the kingdom's highest religious authorities. (ANSAmed).