By Arab News
By MD Rasooldeen and Walaa Hawari
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announced Sunday that Saudi women would be allowed to stand and vote in municipal elections and also become members of the Shoura Council.
King Abdullah was making his inaugural speech at the third year of the Shoura Council’s fifth session.
On arrival at the council headquarters, the king was received by acting Riyadh Gov. Prince Sattam and Shoura Council President Abdullah Al-Asheikh.
Grand Mufti of the Kingdom Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh, President of the Supreme Judiciary Council Saleh bin Homaid and a number of religious scholars and sheikhs were also present to greet the monarch.
“All people know the role of women in the annals of Islam and their position cannot be marginalized. There were great women who contributed a great deal toward the progress of the religion of Islam from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh),” said King Abdullah.
“Since we reject any marginalization of women in Saudi society in every domain, in accordance with Shariah (Islamic) guidelines and following consultations with many of our scholars, especially those in the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars, we have decided the following:
“First, women will be allowed to participate in the Shoura Council as members from the next session onwards.
“Secondly, as of the next session, women will have the right to nominate themselves for membership of municipal councils and also have the right to participate in the electoral process.”
The king greeted members of the council and said the meeting coincides with the Kingdom’s National Day, the day when the late King Abdul Aziz founded the country.
“The struggle of the father of the nation, the late King Abdul Aziz, and of your grandfathers (mercy be upon their souls), has resulted in the unity of hearts, land, and one destiny. Today, this destiny imposes on us to preserve this legacy, and not stop there but to develop it further in line with Islamic and moral values,” he said.
“Yes, it is a responsibility toward our religion and the interest of our country and its citizens that we should not withdraw from our hurdles, but we should forge ahead by strengthening our determination with patience and hard work and with dependence on Allah.”
Balanced modernization in line with Islamic values, which preserve rights, is an important requirement in an era with no place for the weak and people with indecisiveness, he added.
“My brothers and sisters, you have your own rights according to Islamic law to achieve your goals with pride and dignity. It is our right to seek your opinion and advice according to Shariah guidelines and the fundamentals of religion, and those who stay away from these guidelines are arrogant people and they have to bear responsibility for their actions.”
Outlining the Kingdom’s foreign policy, the king said the priority is to demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s solidarity with Muslim countries.
“When the Muslim world is an active and effective partner in the international political and economic arena, the effect of its participation and interactivity will definitely run in favor of our main cause, which is Palestine, which we can support and canvass support for on international platforms, especially now with its request for full membership in the UN,” he said.
“We will mobilize international support to help Palestinians establish an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem, and to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”
He said the Kingdom has been instrumental in offering humanitarian assistance to needy people in the world, adding that the country’s recent initiative to alleviate the sufferings of distressed people in Somalia and Pakistan was well appreciated by the global community.
“Our active role in the G20 meetings held in Canada and South Korea demonstrates the Kingdom’s involvement in international affairs,” he added.
“While supporting peace and security both in the Middle East and other parts of the world, we want to uphold everyone’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy under the supervision and control of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
He added that the Kingdom also supports various initiatives to make the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction as stipulated in UN resolutions.
To meet the demand for energy to ensure global growth and prosperity, he said the Kingdom has established the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy to supplement the country’s oil and gas resources.
He recalled that the Kingdom’s expenditure reached SR580 billion under the 1432/1433 budget, an increase of 7 percent from last year. The budget allocated SR150 billion for general education and training manpower, an 8 percent increase on last year.
SR68.7 billion was allocated for health care and social development (a 12 percent increase on last year), SR24.5 billion for municipal and rural services (13 percent), and SR 25.2 billion for transportation and communication (5 percent).
Reacting to the king’s speech, Health Minister Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah said it was a welcome sign that women were going to be given an opportunity in decision making and participating in government’s affairs. The minister pointed out that since the dawn of Islam, women have worked with men and contributed a great deal to various developments.