Historic Representation for Women in Saudi’s Top Advisory Council

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An Emerging Mystery by Sebastian Farmborough
Saudi King Abdullah in a historic announcement today has appointed women to a fifth of the seats in the country’s powerful Shura Council. Photo: Sebastian Farmborough

Saudi Arabia’s state media has reported that Saudi King Abdullah in a historic move has appointed women to a fifth of the seats in the country’s powerful Shura Council.

In the two royal decrees issued today, King Abdullah reconstituted the council for a new four-year term and ordered that women should always hold at least 20 percent of the seats.

The Saudi shura council is made up of an unelected 150-member body, which functions like a parliament but without formal powers and is composed mostly of academics, clerics, businessmen and former civil servants, vets legislation, recommending changes or additions to the government.

Since taking the reins in 2005, King Abdullah has pushed for modest social change, calling for women to have more opportunities to work. However, the powerful conservative Sunni Muslim clerics have sometimes argued against allowing women a role in politics.

The Saudi political dynamics had been complicated as Prince Nayef , the Saudi Interior minister at that time, was closer to the powerful Shura council than the King himself.  However, with Nayef’s death in June 2012, many analysts had then predicted that it could lead to a shift in tone within the government, but warning that changes will remain incremental in Saudi Arabia, where reform comes second to traditional values.

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