Members of the Saudi Consultative Council. Image Credit: AP

Manama: The head of the Jeddah Literary Club has ruled out banning women from sitting in the same hall as men during the club’s activities as requested by some people.

“People have the right to voice their views and the club also has the right to make the decision it sees fit,” Abdullah Al Sulami said. “Whoever wants to attend our activities is most welcome to do so, but those who feel that they are not in line with their convictions may leave. The club is for all and we welcome all people,” he said, quoted by local Arabic daily Al Madina on Wednesday.

Al Sulami made the comments after a group of people who wanted to attend the “Saudi Elite and Alienation Issues” lecture protested against the presence of women in the same room as men and threatened to leave if they were not told to move to another room.

Reasoning with the protesters, Abdullah Jadaa, the club spokesperson, said that women had often opted to sit in the same hall as men even though the club provided a separate area for them.

“We have since the launch of the club taken into account privacy matters of those who attended our activities,” he said. “However, women have developed the habit of sitting in the same hall as men and now refuse to move out.”

According to the daily, most of the protesters eventually changed their mind and attended the lecture.

The club regularly holds often well-attended lectures and seminars in the Red Sea city.

In his lecture on the concept of people’s alienation, Dr Mohammad Al Saeedi referred to the status of women in the country amid standoffs between supporters and opponents.

“We find today that the two poles, those who support and those who oppose women’s rights, do not base their arguments on specific studies,” he said. “Religious figures are driven by concerns and fears while the others build their views on innocence and positive intentions,” he said.

Saudi women and their supporters have been engaged in an uphill struggle to assert their rights in various sectors.

A new major breakthrough is expected in 2013 when 30 women are expected to be appointed to the all-men Shura Council.

Last year, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz 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 ever since the time of Prophet Mohammad [PBUH].”

According to the Saudi monarch, “balanced modernisation compatible with Islamic values were 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.