Was the decree announced by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques whereby he allowed women to participate in the Shura Council and stand for the municipal elections a surprising one? It is hard to say so, as anyone who closely monitors the changes taking place in the Saudi street, and King Abdullah's constant reformative measures, must understand that such a decree was undoubtedly imminent. In fact, it was only a question of the timing; society would not have accepted this measure had it been taken five years ago, in the same manner that the decree would be considered late if it was issued five years from now.
With the Saudi king’s historic decree, and beginning from the Shura Council's next round of meetings scheduled for February 2013, Saudi women will be able to settle their affairs without the interference of men, who have long dominated discussions regarding their laws, crippling the true role of women in society. Now is the time for a female voice to be heard inside the corridors of the state, in the same manner as that of the men.
There are dozens of laws and causes that directly appertain to women, yet women have been unable to express their opinions, except outside the official framework of the Shura Council. We can now say that this has become a thing of the past. Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that this decree, standing up for Saudi women and granting them full citizenship, will reflect positively on Saudi society as a whole. The irrational view held by some currents and mentalities about women will cease to exist, because female political participation in the country and in the parliament, on an equal footing with men, will convey a strong message to those who belittle women, saying: the King has granted us full citizenship, so how dare you reject it?
Crucially in the coming period, the mobility of Saudi women rests on the quality of their participation in the upcoming Shura Council term. It is true that women have demonstrated a great deal of proficiency in all sectors of the labour market, yet the entire world, not just the Saudis alone, will focus their attention on them as soon as they begin their work in the Council. Hopefully the Saudi woman's expertise and ability will allow her to convey a message on behalf of all women in the Kingdom, in order to initiate other decrees which women are eagerly anticipating.
Inside the Shura Council, rather than outside, a Saudi woman will now be able to discuss, suggest, and recommend what she deems necessary for her. In the past the Saudi street has been preoccupied with the issue of women driving, and I believe there is no better place now for Saudi women to make such a demand than the Shura Council. Let us not repeat the boring phrase that this demand can only be secured by a political decree, because several measures are required before the way is paved for a final decision. [By raising the issue through the Shura Council], this is better than throwing the ball in the decision-makers' court, then leaving the stadium without even playing the game.
All that remains is to refer to a phrase uttered by the Saudi King that sums up the process of Saudi reforms, which reads: "[this is an] era where there is no place for defeatist or hesitant people." If we added to this King Abdullah's speech in which he rejected the marginalization of Saudi women "in all fields of work", we would block the way for anyone attempting to undermine women's rights. There is no way now that women's rights can be marginalized after the momentum has been instigated by royal desire and public support. There is no room for defeatist or hesitant people anymore.
The writer is Asharq al-Awsat's Assistant Editor-in-Chief. The article was published in the London-based newspaper on Sept. 27, 2011.