Saudi king swears in first womenon Shura Council
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Tuesday swore inthe country's first female members of the Shura Council.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Tuesday swore inthe country's first female members of the Shura Council, an appointed body thatadvises on new laws, in a move that has riled conservative clerics in theIslamic monarchy.
Abdullah, who has not been seen on television sinceshortly after a back operation in November, was shown on state media sitting ina palace chamber to give a short speech as he swore in the new council members.
King Abdullah is seen as having pushed to cautiouslyadvance the role of women in Saudi society.
The health of the king, who turns 90 this year, isclosely watched in the world's top oil exporter because he has the final say onpolicy.
Major speeches in recent months have been made onAbdullah's behalf by his heir, Crown Prince Salman. State media have alsolisted Salman as chairing the weekly cabinet sessions in place of the king.
"Your place in the Shura Council is not as thosewho have been honoured, but as those who have been charged with a duty, as yourepresent part of society," he said, addressing the new women members.
One fifth of the new Shura Council are women. Thedecision to appoint women to the body, which functions in place of an electedparliament, was announced in 2011 but their names were only made public lastmonth.
The Shura Council is remodelling parts of its chamberto ensure strict gender segregation between members.
Saudi Arabia's government is entirely appointedby the king, who is also prime minister. The country's only elections are forhalf the seats on municipal councils that have few powers.
Women will also have the right to vote and stand foroffice in the next municipal ballot, Abdullah said in 2011.
The decision to appoint women to the Shura Councilprompted a protest by dozens of conservative clerics outside the royal court inJanuary.
They complained that the move, and other reformsaimed at making it easier for women to work, went against sharia law.
In the ultra-conservative kingdom, women are bannedfrom driving and need the consent of a male "guardian" to work,travel abroad or open a bank account.