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Opinion: The Saudi Shura Council should give a better image of the Kingdom | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Members of the Shura Council attending the inauguration ceremony headed by King Abdullah at his palace in Riyadh in a February 19, 2013 handout image from the Saudi Press Agency. (AFP PHOTO/HO/SPA)

Amid the turmoil in the region and the growing sectarian Sunni–Shi’ite clashes whose signs are becoming evident in several countries, as well as tensions among tribes, it seems pretty obvious that citizenship, in its broad sense, should act as a lifeline in the face of sedition. The most important step the countries of the region should take would be to fully criminalize acts aimed at promoting factionalism and sectarianism as well as place a higher value on belonging than on those pointless and controversial issues. However, this seems not to be obvious to the members of the Saudi Shura Council who recently turned down a draft law that would have criminalized the promotion of sectarianism in a shocking vote to say the least. It shows the Council’s detachment from the dangers surrounding Saudi Arabia which have manifested themselves in the form of a series of “sectarian” incidents and cases of racism often reported by the media. The outcome of the vote shows that the Shura Council has failed to deal seriously with the threats facing Saudi Arabia. Those threats are no secret to anyone and in fact have become the constant subject of discussion by the public and politicians. In truth, there can be no justification for the Shura Council’s decision.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz himself has said on several occasions that Saudi Arabia will not tolerate any attempts at labeling people along sectarian lines or discriminating against them, a clear and definite sign that the state was ready to accept the law, which would have been historic had it been passed by the Shura Council. It would have marked a radical shift in the political, economic and social thinking of the people of Saudi Arabia. The Shura Council needs to look into these urgent issues and the circumstances the country is currently going through in order for it to reflect reality.

The Shura Council should not be that removed from sensitive and significant issues such as racism, sectarianism and factionalism. These are extremely serious issues which need to be addressed radically. The Shura Council is the “kitchen” where laws are made and the “factory” that manufactures future political leaders. Therefore, it should rise to the level of responsibility and its members should be chosen according to completely new criteria.

Shura councils and parliaments in all countries of the world act like mirrors of their societies and the latest decision by the Saudi Shura Council reflects a shocking and disappointing image that needs to be changed quickly.