A NUMBER of Shoura members have expressed their disapproval of the interference by certain groups such as the committee of advisers as well as religious extremists to obstruct council resolutions on important issues like women driving.
They said the proposal to amend the Traffic Law that prevents women from driving cars has not yet seen the light of the day because of what they called “obstruction by ideologists.”
The Shoura members, who preferred to remain anonymous, blamed the committee of advisers, the Islamic and judicial affairs committee and the general secretariat at the Shoura for obstructing some proposals.
“A Shoura member who takes an extreme stand on certain issues has been appointed to the Islamic and judicial affairs committee,” one member said, adding that he was instrumental in preventing some proposals from reaching the house.
The Shoura members said the amendment of the Personal Status Law and a new law to prevent sexual harassment remained as proposals because of the interference by the three agencies.
Speaking to Okaz/Saudi Gazette, Shoura Council’s official spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Muhanna said some proposals and resolutions would require more time for in-depth studies and research. “Even the parliaments of advanced countries take years to pass a new law,” he said.
Many members believe ideological hegemony in the corridors of the Shoura affects the council’s smooth functioning. The Personal Status Law was presented to the Islamic and judicial affairs committee in August 2014. Even after two years it remains with the committee.
A member has described the Islamic and judicial affairs committee as the graveyard of proposals, especially those presented by members whose views do not comply with that of committee members in matters of Islamic jurisprudence.
The committee of advisers, which is supposed to check the technical and structural aspects of proposals, has started evaluating their content. Thus, according to one member, the committee can prevent certain proposals from reaching the Shoura.
“The committee returns the proposals presented by Shoura members several times. This discourages members from presenting proposals as they lose enthusiasm,” said one member.
According to Article 23 of the Shoura Council Law, the council’s activities include enacting new laws and making proposals to make amendments on existing laws. After discussing them at the Shoura, the president should present the proposals to the King. At least 10 members can submit a proposal for a new law or to amend an existing law.
Asked why the Anti-Harassment Law was stopped, one member said: “I cannot give a clear reason for this.” There were reports that the Shoura decided to withdraw the law five months after it was discussed on the floor in light of objections raised by some members who feared it could contribute to mixing of sexes in society. Dr. Falih Al-Sagheer, a member of the social affairs committee, was one of the opponents of the proposal.
Okaz/Saudi Gazette tried to contact a Shoura member who strongly objected to amending the Personal Status Law but he refused to answer questions.
The Shoura has three important roles. It monitors the performance of ministries and government departments by reviewing their annual reports. It covers all ministries except the Finance Ministry as well as security and military agencies. It has to discuss the reports within 90 days of submission.
Legislation is the second major responsibility of the council, but there is no specific period for the council to pass a new law or amend existing laws. Some members misused this loophole and, as a result, decisions on some proposals are stalled for years.
Consultation is the third duty of the Shoura, which provides necessary advice to the Council of Ministers.
Al-Muhanna said there was nothing surprising in the delay of discussing proposals. He considered it as a common phenomenon of all parliaments. “Even the US Congress takes years to pass new legislation,” he added. Sometimes the council demands consultation with experts and citizens before passing a law, said Al-Muhanna.
He said the Shoura is one of the most active parliaments in terms of enacting and amending laws. In the past one year alone, it has passed 26 new laws and discussed 11 proposals.
He said the Shoura has passed some laws in a record time of 30 days while some others have taken more time, as they required more studies. The Shoura will set up special committees to discuss some proposals, considering their importance even after rejecting them by the concerned panels.
Al-Muhanna stressed the Shoura’s desire to listen to the different opinions of members on various topics and proposals. “This is one of the distinctive features of the Shoura Council, which has experts in different fields.”
He said dialogue would help the Shoura take the right decisions. However, resolutions are passed on the basis of majority vote in a transparent manner. He said the council is keen to look into all proposals that serve the public interest.
The Shoura has discussed in the past proposals presented by members on terrorism, unemployment, corruption, flood-prevention, the stock market crash and many others.
A Shoura member, however, pointed out that some members try to impose their religious views on the council as they consider themselves as the guardians of Shariah while looking at others with suspicion. He believes that “religious bidding” was the main reason for finding some proposals and resolutions in the dustbin.
Another member said extremists among the members approach the Shoura president to block some decisions and proposals.
A female Shoura member reportedly described 96 members who supported the amended Personal Status Law as ignorant. “According to the woman about two thirds of members are religiously below her standard and this attitude is totally unacceptable.”
He said members having moderate views are hesitant to express their opinion on various issues, as they fear that extremists would brand them as infidels and hypocrites. He accused the extremists, who account for less than a percent of Saudis, of triggering intellectual terrorism by imposing their views on others. He said the president, his deputy and assistants, secretary-general, heads of specialized panels and the committee of advisers have nothing to do with the religious bidding. However, some of them are influenced by religious extremists or keep quiet fearing chaos and confusion, he added.
The member also noted that religious bidding not only takes place inside the Shoura but outside the council as well, thus negatively affecting some proposals such as women driving and sports in girls schools. Religious extremists in the Shoura have vehemently opposed the idea of sports for girls.
The amended Personal Status Law was aimed at enabling divorcees and widows to get family records and ID cards for their children. This provision has been mentioned in the executive bylaw of the Civil Status Law seven years ago but was not implemented.