(Members of the all-male Shura Council at a meeting in Jeddah July 1, 2007 REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)

Dozens of Saudi clerics staged a rare protest in front of the Royal Court on Tuesday against King Abdullah’s decision to appoint women to a body that advises the government on new laws, a sign of growing conservative unease at modest social reforms.

On Friday, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council, giving them a fifth of the seats in the consultative body – a move he promised to make in 2011.

The kingdom’s top religious authorities including the Grand Mufti accepted that decision, but the gathering of about 50 clerics outside the Royal Court suggested wider disquiet among conservatives in the world’s top oil producer.

A Saudi activist in touch with the clerics confirmed the accuracy of photographs showing them standing in a group as they demanded a meeting with King Abdullah and his top aide Khaled al-Tuwaijri, seeking to offer them “advice”.