Manama: In a historic breakthrough, 30 women are expected to be appointed to the all-men Shura Council in Saudi Arabia in 2013.
“The expectations are that up to 30 women will be appointed to the council in its next term,” sources close to the consultative assembly told local Arabic daily Al Sharq.
The sources that the newspaper did not identify said that talks have already started with several institutions to provide the names of women they saw as “properly qualified” to become Shura members.
A special commission, headed by the king, will look into the nominees and select the final list.
Criteria include Saudi citizenship, a minimum of 30 years of age, impeccable personal record, high level of competency and practical experience.
The Shura Council’s bylaws do not oppose the membership of women and do not specify the gender of the appointed members, the daily reported on Saturday.
However, since it was founded in 1993, the Council had only male members. The first council (1993–1997) had a speaker and 60 members and the second (1997–2001) had a speaker and 90 members. The third council (2001–2005) had a speaker and 120 members and the fourth (2005–2009) had a speaker plus 150 members.
In September, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz whose stances on reforms, particularly on women’s rights, have been obvious since he became ruler in August 2005, said that women would become members of the Consultative Council in the next term.
“We made this decision because we refuse to marginalise women in the Saudi society in their roles that comply with the Islamic Sharia and following consultations with many of our scholars who supported it,” King Abdullah said. “Muslim women in our history have had stances that cannot be sidelined, be it through views or advice, since the time of Prophet Mohammad [PBUH].”
According to the Saudi monarch, “balanced modernisation compatible with Islamic vales was a significant necessity.”
“It is our right to receive your opinion and advice according to the fundamentals of our religion. Whoever trespasses them is arrogant and must take responsibility for those actions,” he said.
King Abdullah in the same speech also announced that women would have the right to run and vote in the 2015 municipal elections.
The king’s announcements were warmly greeted by women in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and elsewhere.
In Riyadh, the Shura Council has set up an ad-hoc commission to look into the measures and procedures to be taken to ensure a smooth welcome and an adequate working atmosphere for the women members in 2013.
The Shura has 12 women advisers whose work is related mainly to issues of women, families and children.