Senior Saudi cleric discontented after King Abdullah move on women’s rights

October 3, 2011

(Saudi Shura council meets in Riyadh, September 25, 2011/Fahad Shadeed)

One of Saudi Arabia’s most senior clerics said he was not consulted about King Abdullah’s decision to grant women more political rights, one of the first signs of discontent from powerful conservatives since the reform was announced. In a speech last week the Saudi monarch announced that women would vote and run in future municipal council elections and serve in the appointed Shura Council which advises the king on policy. King Abdullah said his decision was made after consultation with the country’s most senior clerics, who have extensive political and social influence.

“I wish the king did not say that he consulted senior clerics… When I heard the speech and what was said about consultation, without a doubt I had no knowledge of it before hearing the king’s speech,” Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, a member of the senior clerics council, said on the al-Majd television channel on Friday. A recording of the broadcast was available on YouTube.

The cleric was careful in his remarks not to criticize the king’s decision directly, and did not say whether or not he supported the reform. But he referred to an Arabic proverb which warns that “the thread between a leader and his people” will snap if it is pulled too hard.

Saudi Arabia’s clerics, who are generally conservative, are said to be less than pleased about the reformist ideas of the king. A senior cleric criticized the kingdom’s first mixed-gender university after its launch in 2009 and was immediately relieved from his position. Lohaidan himself was removed from his position as chief of the kingdom’s highest tribunal, the supreme council of justice, after he issued a religious edict that called for the killing of some television executives. He remained as a member of the senior clerics council, which has about 20 members.

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