Shura in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia:
A Historical Background
Shura (consultation) in Saudi Arabia has passed through several stages since the arrival of the late King Abdul-Aziz into Mecca in 1924. He called for the application of Shura at that early date. King Abdul-Aziz made Shura a foundation of his government in order to fulfill the divine order by applying Shariah (Islamic Jurisprudence) and Shura as parts of it. He intended to establish an Islamic Shura state applying Shariah as it is prescribed in the Qur'an and authentic Sunnah (deeds and teachings of Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him).
It may be helpful to review the stages of the developments in the field of the application of Shura in the Kingdom.
The Kingdom's experience in the application of Shura is rich. This experience does not differ from the experience of any other parliamentary council with regard to the stages of its development and the practices of its functions. These stages and developments coincided with given political realities and the internal circumstances of the country.
The National Council in 1924
The first elected council was founded in 1924 under the title of (The Consultative National Council) under the chairmanship of Sheik Abdul Gadir Al-Shebi. The council consisted of twelve members. At that time, when the state structure was not completed, the council was entrusted with drafting the basic laws for the administration of the country. At that early stage, there was no law to specify the functions of the council. However, that council continued for six months.
The Consultative National Council in the year 1925
To expand the circle of participation, the previous council has been dissolved and a Sultanic decree has been issued to form a new elected council representing all 12 districts of Mecca. Two religious scholars and one member representing commerce were to be among the twelve elected members. The council included three additional members nominated by the Sultan from the distinguished citizens of Mecca. One can notice the combination of election and nomination in the formation of the membership of that council.
The council was presided by Sheik Mohammed Al-Marzooqi, with Skeik Abdul Gadir Al-Shebi as vice president, and included fifteen members. Mohammed Suroor Al-Sabban was the secretary of the council.
This council had more organization than its predecessor; it had a vice president and a secretary. The instructions to form the council came in six articles. These instructions specified the qualifications for membership, the closing date for voting, and eligible voters. The jurisdictions of the council were formulated in seven articles that included regulating all affairs in courts, municipalities, endowments, education, security, and commerce in addition to forming permanent committees to solve the problems related to the social traditions that did not contradict Shariah.
The National Council in 1924
Among the stages that the country went through in the process of unification, and as part of the effort to build a state of establishments that can steer the society into more progress, King Abdul-Aziz issued his approval to enact a new Basic Law of Governance in 1926. Among the new laws was a special section for councils, including Majlis Ash-Shura for which items 28, 29, 30, 31, 36 and 37 were addressed. These items deal with the council location, council title (renamed Majlis Ash-Shura instead of its previous title, National Council), the formation of its membership (which included 12 members), determining the convening of its sessions and those who have the right to attend them, and limiting membership terms to one year.
Such items were not included in the formation instructions of the previous National Council. Majlis Ash-Shura was launched on 6/7/1927.
Majlis Ash-Shura in 1927
Two days after the dissolotion of the previous council, a royal decree was issued to amend the fourth section of the Basic Law of Governance which deals with Majlis Ash-Shura. The new amendment allowed the council to work according to a new revised system. The council for this year consisted of 8 members who serve two-year terms. According to the new law, the council is to consist of four members elected by the government after consultation with eminent experts, and four members appointed by the government two of whom had to be residents of Najd region.
The new council law was issued in 15 articles reflecting the council's previous experience. This new law represents the first law drafted for Majlis Ash-Shura. The law stipulates that membership is to consist of eight full-time members presided by the deputy of the King, His Royal Highness Prince Faisal Bin Abdul-Aziz. The council had to convene twice a week, and it could convene more than that upon the request of its president when necessary.
The year 1927 is considered the actual founding date of Majlis Ash-Shura during the reign of King Abdul Aziz who inaugurated the council's first session on Sunday 17/7/1927.
Majlis Ash-Shura in 1928
Due to the large number of tasks entrusted to the council, the public interest necessitated some amendments on its law, so a new amended law was issued. The new law consisted of 14 articles. The amendments were the following:
The number of the council members was increased to 12 instead of 8; the second article indicated that a permanent vice president for the council is to be appointed by the King while a second vice president is to be elected by the council; and the eighth article specified that the council sessions should be held every day instead of twice a week.
In the same year, the council issued an appendix of seven articles for its law. The new appendix was intended to facilitate the council's works. This appendix was developed and issued as internal by-laws for Majlis Ash-Shura. It came in 24 articles.
The council continued working under the above mentioned law without any amendments, and went on exercising wide jurisdictions until the founding of the Council of Ministers in 1953 when many of the jurisdictions of Majlis Ash-Shura were distributed between the Council of Ministers and other apparatuses of government which were developed according to their regulations. However, Majlis Ash-Shura continued to hold sessions and to look into issues referred to it albeit at a reduced level of power.
From the reign of the late King Abdul-Aziz to the reign of the late King Khalid, the old council held a total of 6222 sessions and issued 9349 decisions in 51 council terms.
The Modern Majlis Ash-Shura
After the Kingdom achieved enormous progress in development, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the late King Fahd bin Abdul-Aziz, issued decrees to modernize all major laws in the country. In his historical speech, which he delivered in 27/8/1421 H, he introduced three major laws: the Basic Law of Governance, the Provincial Councils' Law, and the Majlis Ash-Shura Law.
The modernization of Majlis Ash-Shura was considered to be and update to what had already existed by enhancing the council's frameworks, methods, and means and injecting efficiency, organization, and vitality into them. This was done to ensure that the council could cope with the rapid developments the country has seen in recent years in all fields, and to keep pace with the demands and requirements of modern times. This started a new page in the long history of Shura in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The late King Fahd fortified the foundations of Shura in the kingdom by issuing the new Majlis Ash-Shura Law in 27/8/1421 H. (to replace the old law which was issued in 1347 H.) and by approving the bylaws of the council and their supplements in 3/3/1414 H. He launched the first term of the council with a speaker and 60 members. In the second term, the council consisted of a speaker and 90 members. In the third term, the council included a speaker and 120 members. In the fourth term, the council consisted of a speaker and 150 members, representing people of knowledge, experience, and competence.
In 1/8/2005, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz come into power. Since he was the Crown Prince, King Abdullah has been giving the council his utmost attention by supporting its march and strengthening its goals since. As a Crown Price, He delivered a number of royal speeches on behalf of the King to start the agenda of some years in the third and the fourth terms. He also showed his support of the council through amending some articles of the council's law to cope with the growing positive changes in the Kingdom in order to achieve welfare for the country and the citizens.
The elite group of members from which this modern council is formed has proven its worthiness in the past four terms through great achievements and important decisions that have been made in a short period of time.
In its new form, the council has held 1141 sessions and issued 1361 leading to the first year of its fifth term.