A big step with confusing provisions
IT will go down in the history of the state that during the reign of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, a number of important and noteworthy reform steps were taken in Saudi Arabia.
In the era of King Abdullah, the largest reform of the judicial system has been carried out, especially in terms of creating specialized courts in various fields. Also, during the reign of King Abdullah, “the Allegiance Council” has been set up. It is the first written legal text in the history of the Saudi nation that spells out the selection process of crown prince and transition of power based on a written legal reference, rather than just depending on values and customs of inherited political processes that have been in place since the establishment of the state in 1932, and until 2007.
History will record, as well, that in the reign of King Abdullah, women entered the Shoura Council for the first time in the history of the country with full membership rights.
Each one of these three steps represents a quantum leap in the life of society, as well as in the development of the state. However, because the development process naturally does not stop, these big steps need to be complemented with more steps. Reform of the judiciary would not be complete without implementing Shariah through law.
The Allegiance Council has not yet been implemented since it was passed six years ago, thus, its importance and gravity will not materialize and its pros and cons will only be exposed after its application on the ground. I know that there are those who believe that this system cannot be applied because of the exception provided in the third paragraph of the Royal Order, under which the order was issued, but that is another topic which we do not have room to discuss in detail here.
The decision to grant entry of women to the Shoura Council is also a big decision. Women have every right to be proud of this and of what it represents: The recognition of women, their role and their achievements. In this context, the decision expresses clearly the belief and the convictions of the king regarding the importance of women’s role, and their full entitlement to participate alongside men in the work of the Consultative Council within the limits of the powers enjoyed by it in its current phase.
Thus, when history records this resolution and its importance, it will record its significance and what it reflects in the view of the king. That said, however, I find myself confused over certain details in the Royal Order, specifically the last two paragraphs of the Royal amendment of Article 22 of the Council’s internal regulations. The amendment calls for the allocation of seating places for women as well as a separate gate of their exit and entry to the main council chamber. What we understood from this amendment is that women and men will sit together in the main hall during the sessions, but there will be a separate seating place for women away from men within the borders of this room, and it seems that the gate of entry and exit for women will be specifically to this part of the hall dedicated for women’s seating. Is my understanding correct? Then, there is the last paragraph, which allocates places for women’s working offices outside the hall and away from the premises of the men’s working offices. It is more likely that the king was forced to incorporate these provisions by taking into consideration the sensitivities that can be raised by some regarding women’s entry into the council.
The source of confusion in the face of these provisions is the attitude of the people, and their ability to accept one thing and its opposite at the same time. Those people, at least some of them, as it seems, will not accept, or rather let us say, will not be reassured about women entering the Shoura Council without those provisions.
Is this true? Will some really accept this decision as it was issued? Acceptance as such means that the objection is foremost on the shape and formula, and not on the principle of women’s entry to the council. However, if the objection is on the principle, then these provisions will not contribute much, and therefore, it will not change for those very much. As for those who accept the principle, but are demanding certain provisions, it will represent a sharp contrast in the vision and in the attitude toward this issue.
This is because if we entrust council members, both women and men, to take responsibility of contributing to the legislative process with all its importance and seriousness, as well as give opinions about it, why do not we trust their personal behavior? How they can be trusted on questions and issues related to public affairs and of public interest, but at the same time cannot be trusted on issues related to their individual beliefs and obligations? Those who cannot be trusted for their convictions and personal obligations cannot be trusted for the issues of the size and seriousness of the nation’s legislation!
All the new members, men and women, hold high professional postgraduate degrees and have a great deal of experience. I do not think any of them are under 40 years of age, which means that they have reached a stage where they have a sense of responsibility by virtue of their age, knowledge and experience. If we do not believe in the sense of an individual’s responsibility about themselves, their manners, and their commitment to the laws and customs after all those years of age, and after all that time of practical and scientific experience, when will we believe them?
There is a solid scientific rule that states: “To be responsible, it is necessary to be free.” Just as freedom is necessarily limited by responsibility, responsibility is also not possible without freedom. This means that through the enactment of laws and regulations, the state puts the citizen in a position of responsibility, and then, gives the citizen the freedom to act. If the citizen acts in accordance with the laws and regulations, then that citizen has upheld his responsibilities toward himself and the community, but if the citizen acts otherwise, then he is subject to the requirements of law and order.
With such, the citizen senses his responsibility, his personality grows, his vision matures and he is able to solidify this responsibility because he is involved in the formulation of the system, its application, and its commitment. This rule is expressed in the tenth verse of Surah Al-Balad, which reads “And have shown him the two ways?” Al-Qurtubi explains, “There are two paths: The path of goodness and the path of evil. We revealed both of them through revelation.” If true and pure faith in God is only possible by conviction, then compliance with the laws and the sanctity of conviction will not occur unless there is a strong sense of responsibility toward it. This feeling will not grow without freedom in the context of law and order, and this means that there must be individual freedom of choice in order to take responsibility for what is chosen. This is why laws and regulations are ratified, and the citizen is left free to act.
Those who violate the law shall be subject to punishment. Citizens should not hold the responsibility of work before they are given the freedom of choice. The other issue is that the provisions mentioned give the impression that they are only there to legitimize the decision, whereas this decision is legitimate in its original nature, because firstly, it achieved public interest, and secondly, because it was consulted on by senior clerics.
Finally, there remains one more point: In addition to religious scholars, there are a large number of scholars in various fields of science and knowledge, and whose numbers are continuously and steadily growing. Is it not about time that their views be considered in the affairs of their community just like fellow clerics? With all respect and appreciation to the architect of the big decision.