Kingdom’s development reflected in progressive Shoura Council

Kingdom’s development reflected in progressive Shoura Council

King Salman gives his annual speech to the Shoura Council. (SPA)

Much like Americans look forward to watching their president deliver his State of the Union address in front of Congress every January, Saudis eagerly anticipate their king’s annual address to the consultative Shoura Council. On Monday, King Salman gave his address to inaugurate the third year of the Shoura’s seventh term. 

As always, the king’s speech gave a good overview of the Kingdom’s domestic and foreign policy priorities. On the domestic front, supporting Vision 2030’s plans for an economy less dependent on oil income; reducing unemployment; promoting sustainable development; and empowering women to play an even bigger role in Saudi Arabia were major themes. As far as foreign policy was concerned, King Salman reiterated the Kingdom’s commitment to eradicating terrorism and extremism; support for the Palestinians’ right to an independent state; support for the people and government of Yemen as they resist the Houthis’ usurpation of power; and he stressed the Kingdom’s determination to counter Iran’s malign behavior in the region and beyond. 

Although most of the attention was focused on the content of the speech and understandably so, one should not dismiss the importance of the venue. Over the years, the Shoura Council has become more representative, more deliberative, more visible and has developed stronger legislative “teeth.” Its development and growth is a testament to the leadership’s keen awareness of the changes that have taken place both inside the Kingdom and in the region. 

The Shoura Council was first established in the 1920s during the formative years of the modern Saudi state. It was reconstituted in 1993 and has since developed to become an important institution that can propose legislation, debate a vast array of issues that impact all facets of life in the Kingdom, and oversee the performance of many government programs and agencies. 

Not surprisingly, the female members of parliament have won praise for their participation and leadership on issues that go beyond what are traditionally considered issues of particular concern for women. 

Fahad Nazer

Although comprised of 60 members originally, it is now made up of 150 members, representing every region in the Kingdom. It also includes experts and pioneers covering a wide array of subjects and accounting for every sector of the Saudi economy. In fact it is estimated that 105 members hold doctorates, which compares very favorably with other parliaments around the world. Not to be overlooked, its membership of 30 females is also a respectable representation compared to other legislative bodies around the world. While the introduction of women members in 2013 received much attention and was widely praised — and rightly so — other lesser-known facts about the Shoura also merit praise. 

For example, during the second year of its seventh term, the Shoura held 62 sessions and passed 244 resolutions, including 111 related to the performance of government agencies, 75 on bilateral agreements and international treaties, and 49 pertaining to laws and regulations. The Shoura also met or interviewed 589 government officials. While Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform initiative known as Vision 2030 has made it clear that government officials will be held accountable for any mismanagement or poor performance, the Shoura Council reinforces this by requiring annual reports from government agencies and holding hearings with government officials to speak about the accomplishments and challenges of their agencies. 

For its part, the media has also come to realize the importance of the proceedings of the Shoura Council by reporting on many of its sessions and debates. While some of the Shoura’s sessions are closed, others are public and have demonstrated that the Shoura has become a serious deliberative body that does not shy away from debating and proposing solutions to some of the Kingdom’s biggest challenges, including initiatives related to more affordable housing, more accessible healthcare, better education, and more employment opportunities for women. 

Current and former members often lament the fact that the public’s appreciation for the Shoura’s mission and procedures is somewhat lacking due to the fact that discussions on the more sensitive matters are held in private, as is the case in many parliaments around the world. Nevertheless, as it has done elsewhere, the internet and social media have allowed the public greater access to the proceedings and activities of the Shoura and have also given its members more visibility and the ability to connect more directly with the public. 

Not surprisingly, the female members of parliament have won praise for their participation and leadership on issues that go beyond what are traditionally considered issues of particular concern for women. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting several current and former members and there is no doubt that they all consider it a distinct honor to serve the Kingdom and take the responsibility very seriously. 

King Salman opened his remarks by saying: “The Saudi citizen is the starting point for sustainable development and to which all projects are directed. The young men and women of this country are the pillars of achievement and hope for the future.” The younger and more diverse membership of the current Shoura Council — and many of the Kingdom’s government ministries and governorates — suggests that Saudi Arabia is indeed undergoing a generational shift in leadership. That bodes well for the future of the Shoura Council and the Kingdom.

  • Fahad Nazer is a political consultant to the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington and an International Fellow at the National Council on US Arab Relations. He does not represent or speak on behalf of either organization. Twitter: @fanazer

 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view