Iran’s destabilizing role in focus at US talks

Updated 05 September 2015
0

Iran’s destabilizing role in focus at US talks

RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman is holding historic talks here with American President Barack Obama that would ensure significant headway in bringing peace to the troubled Middle East, the Royal Court said in a statement on Thursday.

King Salman and Obama would discuss a range of bilateral, regional and international issues, with the king aiming to push for more support to counter Iran after it agreed to a nuclear deal, the statement said.
Despite the Gulf Cooperation Council’s disappointment with Obama’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran and his lack of direct action in Syria, the role of the United States in Riyadh’s war in Yemen shows Washington remains the Kingdom’s core strategic partner.
The statement added that King Salman’s visit is part of his broader diplomatic initiative that calls for talks with world leaders “to safeguard the interests of the Saudi people and the Islamic world, and to reaffirm the bonds of friendship between the Kingdom and the United States.” Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and his counterpart John Kerry met in Washington on Wednesday to review preparations for the royal visit.
Commenting on the visit, Zuhair Al-Harthi, a member of the foreign affairs committee at the Shoura Council, said that “the summit talks between King Salman and Obama come at a time when the region is in political turmoil.” He said that Saudi Arabia “believes in direct dialogue and meetings and, therefore, the king’s visit and his meetings with leaders of that influential country will have deeper repercussions.”
Al-Harthi hoped that the leaders would find “solutions for pending problems, notably those related to Syria, Yemen, Iran, and terrorism.” He said the forthcoming summit would play a pivotal role in shoring up relations between the two countries to push Washington into re-shaping its policies and priorities, and therefore ensure security and stability in the Middle East.
Palestinian Ambassador to Riyadh Basim Al-Agha described the visit of King Salman and his upcoming meeting with Obama as “important in terms of timing and meaning.” He hoped that King Salman would discuss the Palestinian issue with the American leaders.

Ben Rhodes, United States deputy national security adviser, said that “this is an important visit at an important time with the many developments in the region; where we have a shared interest.”
“Even as we work together to tackle challenges in the region — security and stability — we also have, of course, a very longstanding, long-established collaboration across a whole range of issues, including education, commerce, health, energy and other issues,” said another White House official.
“And we expect the two leaders will discuss ways to continue to promote security in the region, coordinating more closely to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, as well as the broader threat from extremism and terrorism in the region,” he said.
A transcript of the press call released by the United States embassy in Riyadh said that “the US is going to focus on discussing with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners how we can build more effective capabilities and cooperation to counter that Iranian activity.” To this end, the White House officials said that “we need to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.”
On other regional issues, Rhodes said that the leaders would have “a very significant set of discussions on conflicts such as Syria and Yemen where we would support and share many of the objectives that Saudi Arabia has.” “At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re pursuing both military and political strategies in both of those cases, and that we are both committing the humanitarian assistance necessary to deal with grave situations in again both Syria and Yemen,” he said.
On Iraq, Rhodes said that Saudi Arabia has significant relationships in Iraq that can be utilized to support the ongoing effort against Daesh. “We’ve been very focused, for instance, on Anbar Province and deepening our support with the community, including Sunni tribal communities.” He said “Saudi Arabia can be a constructive voice in encouraging cooperation across different Iraqi communities.”


Understanding Shoura: how the Saudi consultative ‘parliament’ works

Updated 19 November 2018
0

Understanding Shoura: how the Saudi consultative ‘parliament’ works

  • The Shoura Council that the King is addressing today has a vital role to play in government
  • Female Shoura Council members have played a major role in raising their voices over many issues concerning social development in Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: When King Salman gives his annual speech that will open the third year of the Shoura Council’s seventh session today, it will set the tone for what lies ahead for the Kingdom, laying the groundwork for the consultative assembly to help to move the country forward.
“The King’s speech in the Shoura Council lays the road map to achieving Vision 2030,” said Lina Almaeena, one of its 30 female members. Women make up of 20 percent of the council, the same percentage of women who now hold seats in the US Congress.
While only midway through its seventh session, the roots of the Shoura Council date back to before Saudi Arabia’s founding. After entering the city of Makkah in 1924, King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud entrusted the council with drafting the basic laws for the administration of what was to become the future unified Kingdom.
In 1928, amendments were made as public interest grew. A new law consisting of 24 articles, which included the permanent appointment of a vice-president by the King, was issued to facilitate the council’s work.
In 1953, the council’s jurisdictions were distributed between the Council of Ministers and other government entities, reducing the Shoura Council’s power, although it continued to hold sessions until its mandate was once again broadened this century.
Its current format consists of a Speaker and 150 council members, among them scholars, educators, specialists and prominent members of society with expertise in their respective fields, chosen by the King and serving a four-year term.
The council convenes its sessions in the capital of Riyadh, as well as in other locations in the Kingdom as the King deems appropriate. Known as Majlis Al-Shoura inside the Kingdom, its basic function is to draft and issue laws approved by the King, as the cabinet cannot pass or enforce laws, a power reserved for the King to this day.
The Shoura can be defined as an exchange of opinions, and so another of its functions is to express views on matters of public interest and investigate these issues with people of authority and expertise, hence the 14 specialized committees that cover several aspects of social and governmental entities. From education, to foreign affairs, members assigned to committees review proposed draft laws prior to submitting them to the King, as they are able to exercise power within its jurisdiction and seek expertise from non-Majlis members. All requested documents and data in possession of government ministries and agencies must go through a request process from the Speaker to facilitate the Shoura Council committees’ work.
Female members are a fairly recent phenomenon. In September 2011, the late King Abdullah stated that women would become members of the council. In 2013, two royal decrees reconstituted the council, mandating that women should always hold at least a fifth of its 150 seats and appointed the first group of 30 female Shoura members.
Five years on, female Shoura Council members have played a major role in raising their voices over many issues concerning social development in Saudi Arabia. “It’s a golden age for Saudis and, as women, we’ve come a long way,” said Almaeena. “We’re living an era of historical change, and we’re making up for lost time.”
As part of their roles, members of the council have the right to discuss general plans for economic and social development, particularly now with the Vision 2030 blueprint. Annual reports forwarded by ministries and governmental institutes, international treaties and concessions are also within the council members’ remit, to discuss and make suggestions that are deemed appropriate.
“Many positive changes have taken place in the past few years, and the Shoura Council’s role has always put social developments first and foremost,” said Dr. Sami Zaidan, a council member of two terms. “The appointment of women diversified and expanded the discussions and has added value.”
Major achievements were chalked up in this term’s second year. Many of the draft proposals discussed received approval votes. On Nov. 8, a proposal with 39 articles to protect informants from attacks, threats and material harm was approved by the majority of the council. The draft law, suggested by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Economy and Planning, would provide whistle-blowers with protection.
In May, the Shoura Council also approved legislation criminalizing sexual harassment in the Kingdom. The Cabinet, chaired by King Salman, backed the legislation, which required a royal decree to become law. Under it, perpetrators may face a jail sentence of up to five years and a SR 300,000 fine.
Draft regulations must go through a two-step process. The first, a chairman of a committee reads a draft of a proposal on the floor, and council members vote on referring the proposal to the designated committee. If members agree to the referral, each article is discussed thoroughly, studies are conducted on the aspects of the proposal, and after completing all the necessary checks, it reaches the second stage. The council then discusses the committee’s recommendations and a vote is set for each article proposed in an earlier session by the committee’s chairman.
Other proposals on the discussion table for this session include one that recognizes the importance of voluntary work in the community, in compliance with Vision 2030, which talks about one million volunteers in the Kingdom by 2030. The council has also asked the General Sports Authority to speed up the development of sports cities and to diversify its functions in different parts of the Kingdom to help the organizational level of women’s sports become an independent agency affiliated to the GSA chairman.
The council has also discussed a recommendation for women to hold leadership positions in Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic missions abroad, from a report by the council’s Foreign Affairs Committee. With approximately 130 women working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the report recommended the necessity of an appointment as an affirmation that Saudi women are able to take over leadership positions as ministers, ambassadors and Saudi representatives in international forums.
Almaeena pointed out that Shoura Council members are the ears of society, playing an important role in relaying the public’s message to the designated committees. “The Shoura Council’s doors are always open, although not many know this,” she said. “The public is always welcome and can attend sessions, scheduling ahead of time. The doors to the council have always been and will always be open to all.”