Friday, March 29, 2013

A Tour of the Majlis Al-Shura Council

It is an oft-heard complaint that in Riyadh there is little to do. When the excitement of shopping dims, what are one’s options? I’ve found Haya Tours to offer some interesting tours for exploring the sites and culture of Riyadh. One of the more unusual tours I have taken is a trip to the Majlis Al-Shura Council, the consultative assembly in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is classified as an absolute monarchy which means that King Abdullah has the supreme authority over the country but must comply with Sharia law as well as the Qur’an.  The Majlis Al-Shura Councils operates as a consultative council to the king. For most expats, this form of government is very different from the governments of their home countries. I found it very enlightening to tour the Majlis Al-Shura Council and learn more how this council operates and functions within the government.

We went to the Al Yamamah Palace in Riyadh, a beautiful and lavishly decorated building where we were met by one of the women working in the building. She ushered us to a comfortable room where we watched a video about the Majlis Al-Shura Council. We were shown around the building, allowed to take pictures in some of the rooms, and even sat in the desks reserved for council members. I enjoyed a walk through a long corridor chronicling the history of the Majlis Al-Shura Council since its beginning in 1927. There were several interesting photographs spanning the 90 years of history, along with documents written in flowing Arabic. We toured a beautiful library filled with thousands of volumes of books devoted to law, science, and history. The last stop of the tour took us to glass-partitioned balcony where we watched a portion of the council proceedings and our presence was acknowledged by the council members. 

While the Majlis Al-Shura Council cannot pass laws it can and does suggest laws to the king, has the authority to interpret laws, and examines annual reports. King Abdullah appoints members to the council and chooses men from around Saudi Arabia who represent three major groups, business, religious, and bureaucracy.  Council members are well-educated and well-respected in their communities both inside and outside the Kingdom. Currently 70% of the 150 council members hold PhDs. When selected by the king council members must serve one term of four years and a maximum of three terms, with the option to decline further service after their first term. During their service on the council, members are expected to attend council sessions twice a week with additional meetings for any of the twelve committees on which they sit. Council members are paid half their salary from their outside employment while the government provides the other half.

A new term has begun and with it a big change. In 2011 King Abdullah announced that women may be included in the council. Thirty well-educated women have been called fill thirty council seats. This is an historic occasion worthy of note and thought. This presents an interesting development in Saudi Arabia’s history and will surely have an impact on the larger Saudi culture.

If you are looking for a unique Riyadh outing where you can actually witness the proceedings of a government very different from your own, then you should definitely consider going on a tour of Majlis Al-Shura Council. It definitely presents an interesting opportunity to learn more about Saudi government, which is a chance that few outsiders have the privilege of experiencing. 

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