Saudi Arabia jumps ahead in world parliament listing

January 16, 2013

Saudi Arabia was ranked 184th on the world’s list of the percentage of women in parliament, alongside Nauru, Palau, Qatar and Vanuatu. None of the countries had any women in their elected or appointed parliaments.

However, a decree issued on Friday by King Abdullah Abdul Aziz Al Saud, has set the country on the path to make a huge leap to the 80th place, well ahead of the US, Ireland, Russia, India and Brazil.

The decree to nominate 30 women to the 150-seat Shura Council also has allowed his country to top the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and to hold the sixth position in the Arab world for the number and percentage of women in parliament.

For the unprecedented experience, King Abdullah selected the women nominees for the new four-year Shura term among the country’s elite with 27 of them holding PhDs.

Two of the women are princesses from the royal family well known for their work with charity foundations. Sarrah Al Faisal, the chairwoman of a woman’s charity foundation, is the daughter of King Faisal (1964 — 1975) and sister of Saud Al Faisal, the foreign minister while Moodhi is the daughter of King Khalid (1975 — 1982) and the secretary-general of his foundation.

The royal decree stipulated that women members had full rights and assumed all duties and responsibilities.

King Abdullah said that the decision to appoint women to the Shura was taken following consultations with a number of religious scholars who endorsed their participation based on the country’s general interest.

The criteria to select the women included the Saudi citizenship, a minimum of 30 years of age, an impeccable personal record, a high level of competency and practical experience.

The Council, since it was founded in 1993, had only male members. The first council (1993–1997) had a speaker and 60 members and the second (1997 — 2001) had a speaker and 90 members. The third council (2001 — 2005) had a speaker and 120 members and the fourth (2005 — 2009) had a speaker plus 150 members.

In September, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz who has stressed on reforms and women’s rights since he became ruler in August 2005, said that women would become members of the Consultative Council in the next term.

“We made this decision because we refuse to marginalise women in the Saudi society in their roles that comply with the Islamic Sharia and following consultations with many of our scholars who supported it,” King Abdullah said. “Muslim women in our history have had stances that cannot be sidelined, be it through views or advice, since the time of Prophet Mohammad [PBUH].”

According to the Saudi monarch, “balanced modernisation compatible with Islamic vales was a significant necessity.”

“It is our right to receive your opinion and advice according to the fundamentals of our religion. Whoever trespasses them is arrogant and must take responsibility for those actions,” he said.

King Abdullah in the same speech also announced that women would have the right to run and vote in the 2015 municipal elections.

The Shura has 12 women advisers whose work was related mainly to issues of women, families and children.

News of the appointment was welcomed by Saudis as a significant step forward for the country.

“This is great news and we are confident women will do well while addressing the painful issues of employment and housing,” a blogger posted on Sabq news site.

Viptop99, another blogger, welcomed the decision, saying that women would help serve the people’s interests thanks to their tenacity.

Bu Hassan123 commented that allowing women to drive cars would be among the first decisions to be made in the new-look parliament.

“If women can lead in the progress of the nation, one of the first recommendations would be to allow them to drive,” the blogger posted.

Women’s representation in parliament in the GCC:




Country                           MPs             Women        Percentage




1.     Saudi Arabia                   150                 30            20%


2.    Bahrain                            80                   15             18.75%


3.    UAE                                40                  07            17.5%


4.    Kuwait                            63                 04             6.3%


5.    Oman                              84                 01              1.2%


6.    Qatar                             35                  00             00%






Top ten women’s representations in parliament in the Arab world:




Algeria                  31.6%


Tunisia                  26.7%


Iraq                      25.2%


Sudan                    24.6%


Mauritania             22.1%


Saudi Arabia         20%


Bahrain                  18.75%


UAE                      17.5%


Morocco                17%


Libya                     16.5%


Based on data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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