Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Ibn Saud formula | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The announcement of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, regarding the right of Saudi women to participate in the Shura Council, and stand for election in the municipal council, is a historic reformative step, and proof of what I call the Ibn Saud formula.

Since the reign of “the founder”, King Abdul Aziz al-Saud, may God rest his soul; the country has gone through major reformative steps, from education, media and the enactment of laws and regulations. All the decisions came from the leader, i.e. the King. “The founder” was responsible for this, and likewise his sons who went on to be kings, up until the reign of King Abdullah. How interesting was it yesterday, when the King said: “Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama (clerics) and others… to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term”.

The talk about “deliberation with our senior ulama (clerics) and others” means that the Saudi king is going down the same path trodden by “the founder”, who used to refer to influential people, from men of the clergy and the state. Ibn Saud was a ruler for all the people, rather than segments of them. It is well known in Saudi Arabia that the citizen was, and still is, more receptive to the progressive decisions of the state, rather than conflicts between trends. The Saudis did not inherit their state, rather they built it, and they have always been aware of their entitlements.

If the decision for women to participate in the Shura and municipal councils was left to campaigns and bickering, it would not have gained popular acceptance. Instead, its issuance by the King ensures that it is accepted and welcomed. It is suffice here to consider another important matter, the issue of women driving. While campaigns failed to promote popular demonstrations in support of women driving, the same Saudi society has welcomed a greater initiative, namely the King’s decision to allow women to participate in the Shura and municipal councils. When I say “greater”, this is because the initiative gives Saudi women the opportunity today to enact regulations and laws. They are also able to present female-specific issues under the dome of the Shura council, including the right to drive, or agree upon the urgent priorities. Women have now become partners, not followers.

All this confirms that the Saudi leadership is able to manage the helm of reform and progress without campaigns or external demands. The leadership has a popular balance, and an established legitimacy. Therefore, what Saudi Arabia needs today is to move forwards with reform without resorting to bickering, despite the issue of timing, bearing in mind that even some Gulf countries with a richer experience in democracy have forced women out of parliament because of political bickering.

Therefore, issues should not be politicized, or left to be hijacked by attention seekers. Many demands fluctuate wildly in a matter of years, and the inconsistencies would have negative effects on society if all calls were to be obeyed. Thus, it was most effective for Ibn Saud to complete his reformative path as he did throughout his history, as did the King yesterday.

In Saudi Arabia, the people believe their king. This is what history and the present tells us.