Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council: A Century of Historic Governance

The view of Saudi Shura Council in session.
The view of Saudi Shura Council in session.
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Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council: A Century of Historic Governance

The view of Saudi Shura Council in session.
The view of Saudi Shura Council in session.

Since the early days of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz established key principles, including the use of Shura (consultative) councils as a crucial aspect of his wise governance.

Under his rule, the Shura Council was formed, representing a significant move towards institutionalizing governance practices.

This marked the beginning of a constitutional framework for the developing state.

The constitutional movement began in February 1925 with the first National Council being founded under the speakership of Sheikh Abdul Gadir Al-Shebi.

That council continued for six months until a reshuffle that saw Sheikh Mohammed Al-Marzouki Abou Hussein act as speaker and Shebi as his deputy. The council boasted 15 members and Mohammed Suroor Al-Sabban acted as its secretary.

On August 5, 1925, King Abdulaziz inaugurated the council’s session at its Makkah headquarters.

He delivered the first royal address in two parts: a brief impromptu speech with his directives, and an extended official statement presented by Counselor Hafez Wahba.

This tradition continues to this day, with members considering the royal address as the council’s “work program.”

They formed committees to review and discuss the addressed topics, presenting the results to the king after council approval.

First step

On May 13, 1926, an official announcement was made for the election of consultative councils, including the Shura Council.

A royal decree was issued on May 23, 1926, appointing Sharif Mohammed Sharaf Basha bin Adnan Al-Ghalib as speaker.

The first constitutional document, published later, outlined the creation of the Council.

Formed under the deputyship of the King in the Hijaz in September 1926, with Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Al-Otaiqi as the deputy, three councils represented the starting point for Shura development.

They marked an experimental phase for the model upon which the Saudi institutional state is built, including the systems and formation methods of these councils.

On July 8, 1927, in response to recommendations from the Inspection and Reform Committee, the King agreed to a new system for the council.

He replaced its members and reorganized it with his advisor Sharif Mohammed Sharaf Adnan leading the sessions.

Evolution of the Council

This marked the beginning of the Shura Council in its long-standing form.

In the second session, King Abdulaziz saw the need to improve its system. The initial system had 14 articles.

The Council’s new internal rules were issued, consisting of 24 articles. This system remained in place for almost 65 years, during which the council carried out its functions.

After the creation of the Council of Ministers in 1952, which limited the Shura Council's powers, there was a need to update its system to match the changes in various state authorities.

The Council made its first attempt in 1953, preparing a proposal for the development of its system and internal rules, which was submitted for review.

Committees were formed, and in 1962, a committee led by Prince Mishaal bin Abdul Rahman worked on drafting the basic governance system.

In 1980, another committee led by Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz resulted in the creation of the “Shura Council System.”

5,963 meetings in 54 years

Despite a delay in updating the system for about 40 years, the Council’s experience during that period is still remembered in political and administrative circles, with its impact documented in government archives.

According to Saudi Shura historian Dr. Abdulrahman bin Ali Al-Zahrani, the Council held 51 sessions, between 1927 and 1980, conducting a total of 5,963 meetings and issuing 8,583 decisions, including various regulations and instructions.

During this time, the Council boasted 85 members, with each session attended between six and 25 members.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Ibrahim Al-Ghazawi held the longest tenure at 51 years, starting as a secretary and eventually becoming the permanent deputy speaker. Sheikh Mohammed Al-Tayyib Al-Hazazi had the shortest membership, lasting only one month.

Membership extensions were common at the time, with an average tenure of 10-and-a-half years per member.

King Faisal at the helm

King Faisal served as the president of the Council from 1927 until his passing in 1975.

Afterward, the Council remained linked to the monarchy, with the vice president managing its affairs.

It wasn't until 1992, with the royal decree appointing Sheikh Mohammed bin Ibrahim bin Jubair as speaker, that new leadership emerged.

Jubair had been a member of committees studying the Council’s system development since 1962.

The role of vice president was held by individuals like Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Fadl, Saleh Shata, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Shebi, Sharif Mohammed Sharaf Rida, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghazawi, and Saadik Dahlan.

The role of Secretary-General saw seven individuals taking charge, including Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghazawi, Hamza Al-Marzouki Abu Hussein, Fuad Ali Rida, Saadik Dahlan, Alawi Al-Idroos, Mohammed Saeed Jawharji, and Abdel Razak Al-Tayeb.

The last session of the Council during its 51st term took place on September 27, 1980.

From Makkah to Riyadh

But interestingly, after that point, the council didn't stop its work. It continued to function as an entity with its own budget, staff, and headquarters in Makkah’s Shisha neighborhood.

The General Secretariat and administrative operations were based there, and extensions were given to remaining members.

After the death of the Council’s deputy speaker, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghazawi, a Royal Decree (No. 2931) was issued on July 14, 1981, appointing Dahlan to replace him.

Dahlan continued in this role until 1992 when the Council’s offices moved to Riyadh.

The Council even had a summer headquarters in Taif.

King Abdulaziz inaugurated the third session and delivered the royal address in Taif on July 27, 1930.

Other key figures also delivered royal addresses in the absence of the King.

These foundations set by King Abdulaziz during a crucial period in the Kingdom’s early years illustrate his dedication to establishing the state’s structure.

Despite focusing on unification wars and ensuring security, he prioritized stabilizing the state's foundations. His successors continued and refined these practices.



Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
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Syrians in Lebanon Fear Unprecedented Restrictions, Deportations 

A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)
A Syrian refugee boy runs at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

The soldiers came before daybreak, singling out the Syrian men without residence permits from the tattered camp in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. As toddlers wailed around them, Mona, a Syrian refugee in Lebanon for a decade, watched Lebanese troops shuffle her brother onto a truck headed for the Syrian border.

Thirteen years since Syria's conflict broke out, Lebanon remains home to the largest refugee population per capita in the world: roughly 1.5 million Syrians - half of whom are refugees formally registered with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR - in a country of approximately 4 million Lebanese.

They are among some five million Syrian refugees who spilled out of Syria into neighboring countries, while millions more are displaced within Syria. Donor countries in Brussels this week pledged fewer funds in Syria aid than last year.

With Lebanon struggling to cope with an economic meltdown that has crushed livelihoods and most public services, its chronically underfunded security forces and typically divided politicians now agree on one thing: Syrians must be sent home.

Employers have been urged to stop hiring Syrians for menial jobs. Municipalities have issued new curfews and have even evicted Syrian tenants, two humanitarian sources told Reuters. At least one township in northern Lebanon has shuttered an informal camp, sending Syrians scattering, the sources said.

Lebanese security forces issued a new directive this month shrinking the number of categories through which Syrians can apply for residency - frightening many who would no longer qualify for legal status and now face possible deportation.

Lebanon has organized voluntary returns for Syrians, through which 300 travelled home in May. But more than 400 have also been summarily deported by the Lebanese army, two humanitarian sources told Reuters, caught in camp raids or at checkpoints set up to identify Syrians without legal residency.

They are automatically driven across the border, refugees and humanitarian workers say, fueling concerns about rights violations, forced military conscription or arbitrary detention.

Mona, who asked to change her name in fear of Lebanese authorities, said her brother was told to register with Syria's army reserves upon his entry. Fearing a similar fate, the rest of the camp's men no longer venture out.

"None of the men can pick up their kids from school, or go to the market to get things for the house. They can't go to any government institutions, or hospital, or court," Mona said.

She must now care for her brother's children, who were not deported, through an informal job she has at a nearby factory. She works at night to evade checkpoints along her commute.

A sign that reads "The return of the displaced is a right and a duty", is placed along a highway in Jounieh, Lebanon May 23, 2024. (Reuters)

'WRONG & NOT SUSTAINABLE'

Lebanon has deported refugees in the past, and political parties have long insisted parts of Syria are safe enough for large-scale refugee returns.

But in April, the killing of a local Lebanese party official blamed on Syrians touched off a concentrated campaign of anti-refugee sentiment.

Hate speech flourished online, with more than 50% of the online conversation about refugees in Lebanon focused on deporting them and another 20% referring to Syrians as an "existential threat," said Lebanese research firm InflueAnswers.

The tensions have extended to international institutions. Lebanon's foreign minister has pressured UNHCR's representative to rescind a request to halt the new restrictions and lawmakers slammed a one billion euro aid package from the European Union as a "bribe" to keep hosting refugees.

"This money that the EU is sending to the Syrians, let them send it to Syria," said Roy Hadchiti, a media representative for the Free Patriotic Movement, speaking at an anti-refugee rally organized by the conservative Christian party.

He, like a growing number of Lebanese, complained that Syrian refugees received more aid than desperate Lebanese. "Go see them in the camps - they have solar panels, while Lebanese can't even afford a private generator subscription," he said.

The UN still considers Syria unsafe for large-scale returns and said rising anti-refugee rhetoric is alarming.

"I am very concerned because it can result in... forced returns, which are both wrong and not sustainable," UNHCR head Filippo Grandi told Reuters.

"I understand the frustrations in host countries - but please don't fuel it further."

Zeina, a Syrian refugee who also asked her name be changed, said her husband's deportation last month left her with no work or legal status in an increasingly hostile Lebanese town.

Returning has its own dangers: her children were born in Lebanon and do not have Syrian ID cards, and her home in Homs province remains in ruins since a 2012 government strike that forced her to flee.

"Even now, when I think of those days, and I think of my parents or anyone else going back, they can't. The house is flattened. What kind of return is that?" she said.