x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Saudi clerics protest king's move to empower women

Hardline clerics protest outside palace in Riyadh against the king's decision to appoint 30 women to the kingdom's top advisory body.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the country's Shura Council on Friday. EPA
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the country's Shura Council on Friday. EPA

RIYADH // A group of hardline clerics protested outside the royal palace in Riyadh against the king's decision to appoint 30 women to the kingdom's top advisory body.

The clerics called the appointments "dangerous changes in the country and these latest appointments in the Shura Council that do not represent the philanthropists and the good people", according to footage on YouTube posted today.

"These appointments are not representative of the whole society," one of the clerics told Tuesday's small gathering, referring to King Abdullah's decision on Friday to name 30 women to the 150-seat Shura Council.

The group called for clerics to be granted similar representation on the council, which is appointed by the king to advise him on policy but cannot legislate.

The unidentified cleric said the group had gathered to demand a meeting with the head of the royal court, Khaled Al Tuwejari, to offer him "advice".

He was also shown criticising the refusal by Saudi officials to meet the protesters who had rallied despite the kingdom's ban on protests. The video footage showed a police car parked on the opposite side of the road.

The Saudi human rights lawyer Walid Abulkhair said that "the protest was against the appointment of women to the Shura Council".

King Abdullah's decrees marked a breakthrough in the conservative kingdom that imposes stringent restrictions on women, who are banned from driving and denied the right to travel without male consent.

The monarch took the decisions following consultations with religious leaders in Saudi Arabia, which applies a strict version of Sharia, according to the decrees.

The 30 chosen women include university graduates, human rights activists and two princesses.

King Abdullah had been carefully treading towards change, introducing municipal elections for the first time in 2005.

In 2011 he granted women the right to vote and run as candidates in the next municipal election, set for 2015, because "we refuse to marginalise women's role in Saudi society".