Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
Since its establishment, the Shoura Council has gone through various reforms. Many see it as a formal advisory body but it has a far greater role in the decision-making process, particularly when it comes to new legislations.
Many people don’t even know about the history of this important body. The first Shoura Council was founded by a royal order issued by King Abdul Aziz in 1926 and it was chaired by one of his sons.
In 1932, the Shoura Council was formally institutionalized. We can safely claim that the Shoura Council is one of the oldest functioning political bodies in the world.
Last week, I was honored to receive an invitation to attend a Shura Council session that was held last Tuesday. I had arrived at the venue an hour ahead of the scheduled reception, which was at 9 in the morning. I reached early due to two reasons. One was that I couldn’t wait to observe their discussion session and the other reason was that I was not familiar with the whereabouts of the venue where the Shoura Council sessions were organized.
To be honest, I had read a lot about the Shoura Council and got a glimpse of its activities through the reports, which are circulated in the Saudi papers. Still reading about the Council and actually attending a session are two different experiences.
The Shoura Council consists of about 150 members and 30 of these members are very highly educated women and their presence made a huge difference in the discussions or decisions. They have also played a crucial role in the introduction of various reforms related to Saudi women. The royal decree to assign 30 Saudi young women to the Shoura Council just a few years ago was a milestone on the road toward reforms that the Kingdom is set to introduce with the other steps to ensure the well-being of the Saudi citizens.
The day I visited the Shoura Council, I was among a group of Saudi newspapers’ editors-in-chief and columnists.
At 9 in the morning we were met by employees from the public relation department in the council and were escorted to meet with the council president Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh. During the brief meeting, we discussed various issues very candidly.
Dr. Al-Asheikh spoke with transparency and practically spoke about every subject that would make any columnist’s eyes wide open. We all spoke with openness that reflected the clear changes that are not only taking place in the Council but also in the Saudi society. The council president was polite, courteous and a good listener but very assertive regarding the need to go along with the necessary changes and reforms.
Our next stop was meeting members of the council and listening to their discussions and their presentations to the council president. This was an experience that I would cherish for a long time. But, the last part of the visit was the most interesting and enlightening experience. There was a closed roundtable discussion that joined both the visiting media columnists and few members of the council. Each one had a few minutes to talk about issues that concern the country and its citizens. During the talk, members of the council gave very informative details about the achievements of the council and spoke about the details of the mechanism of proposing the draft or the ability to summon government officials for questioning.
The Shoura Council has come a long way in a short time and made an impact on the Saudi governing system. It is true that it has opened the doors for better participation in the decision-making process but there are many reforms that could be introduced to the Council.
There can be more power and authority that can be given to the Council. Its members are closer to the strategic decision makers in the Kingdom, thus the members of the council can prove to be very effective in conveying the issues of a common man to the high-ups. The Shoura Council should also play a bigger role in talking to the outside world.
Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. A Day at the Shoura Council reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.