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When the Saudi Shoura Council rejects a national unity protection proposal…

Saudi Arabia is not living in a bubble; it is threatened by the same dangerous diseases.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

There are still many voices expressing shock at a Saudi Shoura Council vote which rejected discussions on a national unity protection proposal. The proposal had called for the promotion of understanding and coexistence between citizens and residents. It also prohibited any individuals or groups inside or outside Saudi Arabia from advocating or inciting hatred or contempt on the basis of ethnicity, tribe, race, color or beliefs.

How did the Council – so easily and quickly – refuse to examine the proposal, despite the explicit and imminent danger emerging from the spread of sectarianism and racism in the region? Sectarian calls are shattering neighboring countries such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and dominating media, religion and society. Saudi Arabia is not living in a bubble; it is threatened by the same dangerous diseases. Provocative campaigns against the kingdom, waged by many sides, have crossed the borders and reached the country; they have already committed sectarian crimes in two mosques in eastern Saudi Arabia in recent weeks.

Those who do not feel the threat and the imminent danger do not deserve any prestigious status granted to them. They certainly didn’t reject the proposal because they’re against coexistence and the protection of national unity, but because they have underestimated recent events and do not sense the dangers looming on the horizon.

Some of the Shoura members welcomed the proposal but believe that the “rule of law” already addresses this problem in one of its articles: “The consolidation of national unity is a duty, and the state will prevent anything that may lead to disunity, sedition and separation.” However, those who submitted the proposal were already aware of the principles of governance and yet they saw the need for an explicit written law that defines the responsibilities and duties of this general principle.

Criminalize incitement and sedition

Council members who have submitted the proposal are certainly more aware of the imminent crisis, and are more eager to face it, in contrast with those who believe that the world is in a perpetual state of security, and sleep reassured at night. They do not see how large communities around them have collapsed because they were unable to find national denominators that strengthen national unity, whether tribal, sectarian or regional. They do not sense the danger emerging from arenas filled with those who incite division, threatening the unity of their country, whether intentionally or not.

Saudi Arabia is not living in a bubble; it is threatened by the same dangerous diseases.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

This discussion is not out of the blue. In an article in al-Riyadh newspaper by Shoura Council member Dr. Haya al-Mani, says the proposal was based on a speech by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who is the point of reference for all authorities. He has been clear about rejecting all kind of sectarianism. Dr. Haya said that the project was submitted in order to be studied, however those who opposed it found it too much of an effort!

What can be done after that the majority of the Shoura Council rejected it (74 against 47), refusing to protect national unity and criminalize incitement and sedition?

There are those who asked for the Shoura Council to be dissolved, those who suggested resorting to the Council of Ministers, and those who asked to improve the law. I believe that the only solution is to resort to the Shoura council, because it is the legislative council, regardless of the majority that failed to sense the imminent threat. If we try to submit the proposal again, they might then understand the danger.

Dissolving the Council is not a logical solution, because the members of the council are appointed and not elected. They were appointed based on their experiences and expertise. They do not represent the public, as it is the case for elected assemblies. The state appoints them and holds them accountable. What I mean is that the Shura Council is one of the state institutions; the state is capable of handling its failures if it sees that the council is no longer able to respond to an emergency and crucial requirements.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 21, 2015.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.