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Reshuffle of Saudi councils signifies a moderate direction

In a Royal Decree on December 2, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman reshuffled the country’s top religious body

Samar Fatany

Published: Updated:

In a Royal Decree on December 2, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman reshuffled the country’s top religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, and the consultative Shoura Council. New members of the Council of Senior Scholars include moderate clerics who support a more liberal lifestyle promoting entertainment and women’s participation in the labor force. The Royal Decree also appointed three members to the Shoura Council who represent a new wave of young, accomplished and progressive women. Lina Almaeena, the youngest, is a popular sports advocate; Mody Al-Khalaf is a prominent former diplomat and Kawthar Al-Arbash is a journalist who is better known as the mother of a martyr who stopped a Daesh attack on a mosque.

The new appointments are quite significant as they indicate a new inclusive and moderate direction toward modernizing the Kingdom and marginalizing the hardliners who do not support the Saudi Vision 2030 reforms.

Meanwhile, the transformation plan to implement efficient cooperation between the ministries of justice, education and labor may finally create the necessary policies to support women and end the prevailing discriminatory social trends.

Social injustice against women requires effective laws, so that all are aware of women’s legal rights and violators are held accountable for transgressions. Fortunately, there are more men today who welcome the participation of women in all government sectors.

Educated and capable women have succeeded in leadership and management positions in the private sector. There are also many who are highly qualified and are contributing in various fields.

Some 500 students are pursuing electrical and computer engineering in Effat University and sixty percent of students are majoring in architecture. Dr. Zainab Abuelma’atti, Assistant Professor and Dean of Admission and Registration at Effat University, said on the sidelines of a higher education conference in Dubai that “the reason the colleges of engineering and architecture and design are popular is because there is a huge demand now for female engineers.”

How privatization, salary cuts and the hike in fees will affect our fiscal future over the next decade are also issues of public concern. There are a lot of uncertainties and the consequences are still unclear to working-class Saudis

Samar Fatany

Many Effat University engineering and architecture graduates are working with the mayoralty. Some students are working with General Electric and some are involved in research work at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).

Prince Muhammad Bin Fahd University in Dammam opened its electrical engineering college for women in 2016. “We are planning to open other engineering programs for women because there is a demand for female engineers,” said Dr. Muhammad S. Al-Mulhem, vice rector of the university. He said that female engineering graduates are absorbed in giant companies like Saudi Aramco and Sabic. “There is a growing demand for our law program as well,” said Dr. Al-Mulhem.

Furthermore, the inclusion of women in the workforce at all levels could reduce the dependence on foreign labor. This process has already started and an example of this is the employment of women as receptionists, office workers and sales assistants and in the production lines of some factories and industrial units.

Women can now be the solution to the vast dependence on foreign labor in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, progress has been slow due to social inhibitions and cultural barriers. However, economic necessity dictates the participation of women in the national economy. Economists affirm that investment in women is the way forward and the most effective means of eliminating poverty.

Lubna Olayan, the chief executive of Olayan Financing Company, in her presentation at the MiSK forum held in Riyadh recently said, “It has been our experience, and that of other organizations, that Saudi women have consistently proven their professional worth despite a culture that limits their roles and career advancement; irrespective of financial needs. These traditions are deeply embedded in our social and economic infrastructure, and have resulted in decades of negligible involvement of women in the workforce, particularly in sectors other than education and healthcare.”

How privatization, salary cuts and the hike in fees will affect our fiscal future over the next decade are also issues of public concern. There are a lot of uncertainties and the consequences are still unclear to working-class Saudis.

Young entrepreneurs starting their own businesses are facing major obstacles especially when it comes to hiring expatriate employees on work visas and dealing with new tax regulations that in many cases make opening stores and manufacturing centers financially unrealistic. Qualified young women if denied opportunities would ultimately opt to seek better prospects and search elsewhere for more business-friendly environments.

The government should pay more attention to the brain drain of talented Saudi women and provide opportunities and incentives for them to contribute and boost the economy. Members of the Council of Senior Scholars and the Shoura Council are expected to address these challenges in order to support the implementation of the Saudi Vision 2030 transformation plan.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on December 10, 2016.

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Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”

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