Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Saudi Arabia's Consultative Council

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Saudi Arabia's Consultative Council

Article excerpt

This study of Saudi Arabia's Consultative Council focuses on the evolution and formalization of the Saudi consultative process and the social background characteristics of the 90 members of the 1997 Majlis. The analysis reveals that the Saudi kingdom's policy priorities are reflected in the Majlis's seven functional roles, which are consultative, legislative, mediational, cooptative, representational, symbolic, and honorific.

The cautious Saudi experiment to establish a formalized consultative system received an unexpected push in July 1997 when King Fahd ibn `Abd `Aziz al-Sa'ud (1982-) appointed a new Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council). Indeed, the king's very act of continuing the consultative experiment and expanding the Council's membership to 90, was greeted with a degree of surprise both by Saudis and foreign observers.l

The appointment of the new Council represents an important milestone in the evolution of the Saudi political system for at least two interrelated reasons. First, the appointment represents the king's apparent determination to institutionalize the consultative process which he had initiated in August 1993. Second, his decision to increase the Council's membership from 60 to 90 constitutes a major broadening of the Saudi consultative process.

This study briefly traces the evolution of Saudi Arabia's experience in establishing a consultative mechanism and presents an aggregate profile of the membership of the new Majlis al-Shura appointed in July 1997. The analysis is based on the social background attributes of the Council's members, to discern the determinants of recruitment, the developing functions of the Council, and the emerging policy priorities of the state. Based on detailed biographical data, the study utilizes the techniques of social background analysis of political elites.2

The multifaceted role of deliberative bodies in the political development of nonWestern polities has been given scant scholarly attention. In the Western perspective, the primary function of such bodies is legislative, in the absence of which they are commonly dismissed as "rubber-stamps." What is proposed in this article is a more comprehensive classification of the functions of deliberative bodies, one that is more appropriate to the political cultures of non-Western political systems. Thus, deliberative bodies may play any one or several of seven functions: consultative, legislative, mediational, cooptative, representational, symbolic, and honorific. The Western preference for the legislative role notwithstanding, it is necessary to explore specifically the symbolic, representational, cooptative and honorific functions of the Saudi Majlis, beyond its formal role as a consultative and mediational body. These multiple functions become apparent in a systematic analysis of the social background characteristics of the 90 members of the 1997 Majlis.

THE FIRST MAJLIS AL-SHURA (1993-97) The concept of shura (consultation) is rooted in Muslim political thought and practice harking back to the early days of Islam. It is based on the Quranic reference "amruhum shura baynahum"3 (who conduct their affairs [of governance] by mutual consultation.). In the Saudi context the consultative process developed in an uneven fashion, beginning with the eight-member Shura Council of Hijaz in 1927 under King `Abd al-`Aziz ibn Sa'ud (1926-53), later expanded to 20, and chaired by Prince Faysal ibn `Abd al-`Aziz al-Sa'ud as his father's deputy.4 In 1956, King Sa'ud ibn `Abd al-`Aziz al-Sa'ud (1953-64) decreed an expanded Council of 25, but soon its functions were transferred to the cabinet.5 In the meantime, the traditional forms of consultation, based on tribal consensus, were followed at the different levels of Saudi governance. Although both King Faysal (1964-75) and King Khalid ibn `Abd al-`Aziz al-Sa'ud (1975-82) had promised to establish a Majlis, it was not until September 1992 that King Fahd named Shaykh Muhammad ibn Jubayr, a conservative 'alim (religious scholar), as chairman of Saudi Arabia's first Majlis al-Shura and, in August 1993, appointed its 60 members. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.