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January saw Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud appoint 30 women to the previously all –male consultative Shura Council-the main advisory body to the countries ruling family. The Assembly whose members are appointed by the king, works as the formal advisory body of Saudi Arabia. It can propose draft laws following which it would present them to the king, who, in turn, would either pass or reject them. Women have sat as advisers since 2006 but they have now been granted full membership for the first time –and now on the whole make up 20% of the council. While women parliamentarians are commonplace in most other country’s in the world, this is the first time Saudi women will have the opportunity to impact the direction of the country. Potentially, it represents the beginning of self-determination for women in the country, which Saudi’s ruler has gently persuaded his subjects, is necessary for the future. The change might be less than a month old but already the way Saudi thinks it already starting to change.”Whatever .impacts women impacts men as well” said Thuraya Obeida veteran of 35 years

service at the UN and one of the 30 female appointees to the Shura. That her words, set up growing beliefs in the country- are echoing around Saudi media- represents a huge step forward for the kingdom. But why is the move so significant. It is true that women are currently forbidden from driving. They remain excluded, from holding a high political office, and are also unable to travel without permission from a male guardian and may not mix with unrelated men. Some sceptics cautioned that women’s appointment to the Shura is simply a symbolic move, as the advisory group doesn’t actually enact any legislation, But there can be no doubting what a powerful symbol it remains. The policy means for the first time women take part in the discussion which forms the official advice passed to the king. Many also believe that now Saudi women are deemed worthy of joining the body that advises the king on sensitive matters, they are on the road to winning

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SAUDI AUSTRALIA BULLETIN PAGE 3 further concessions. But perhaps the greatest significance behind the change is showing the political wisdom of the king Abdullah and crucially, his commitment to reforming the country. In recent years he has overseen a number of radical changes relating to the intensive Islamic super conservationism of Saudi. Last year saw the country enter female athletes at the Olympics for the first time, despite a backlash from conservative -minded members of the public and clerics. In 2011 he granted woman the right to vote and run as candidates in the next local election, set for 2015, because “we refuse to marginalise woman’s role in Saudi’s society.” In 2009 the first co-educational further education institute was opened despite strong clerical opposition. The king has also issue a decree limiting work at lingerie shops to Saudi women, in a bid to reduce female unemployment, estimated to be at 30 percent. But despite these significant developments there were initial doubts when the monarch first signalled his plan to name women to the Shura. When the announcement of changes to the council was first made in 2011., a Saudi cleric said it would be “haram” or forbidden under Islam. But King Abdullah went ahead and announced the 30 appointees, saying that he had consulted the senior Ulemic Council, the religious body whose approval is one of the Saudi monarchy. The Shura appointments suggest more than ever that Abdullah wants to set in motion a framework for transition to a more modern nation as a central tenant of his legacy. Reaction at Home and Abroad King Abdullah’s commitment to providing the change his country requires has appeared also all the more remarkable because of the range of reactions at home and abroad. In Saudi itself a number Saudis were quick to welcome the change Jeddah-based journalist, Maha Akeel described the announcement as “ a very big step forward”. She told the BBC that the women on the Shura Council would be “under pressure from conservative elements” within the kingdom, but was confident they would be more than able to defend themselves. “These women will bring fresh energy and

insights to the Councils. Their participation will open doors for w o m e n” she added. Naijla Al Aw a d h i , a former member of the United Arab Emirates Parliament and one of the first female members of the legislature there said “Saudi Arabia is the most conservative Gulf country when it comes to women’s rights, so the appointment of women to the Shura Council, while in the short term its impact is symbolic, in the long term its impact is significant”. Among the first to publicly hail the decision internationally was the European Union. A statement by Nabila Massrali a spokesperson for the European Commission said “Setting a level of 20 percent of women participation in the consultative body is a major development in the direction of women empowerment and participation in the political process in Saudi Arabia,””the decision confirms a positive trend after the earlier decision of Saudi Arabian authorities to allow women to vote and for the office In the 2015 municipal elections”, the EU statement said “These are welcome steps on the road towards gender quality. The EU encourages Saudi Arabia to go further on this road in order to tap the full potential that women empowerment and gender equality brings to the society” the statement added.


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he ninth meeting of the Saudi ArabiaAustralia Joint Ministerial Commission ( JMC) was held in Canberra on the 22nd of March 2013 [10 Jumada Al-Ula 1434H]. The Commission was co-chaired by the Saudi Minister for Agriculture, His Excellency Dr Fahd Abdurahman Balghunaim and the Australian Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Dr Craig Emerson. Dr Balghunaim also held discussions with his Australian counterpart, Senator Joe Ludwig, on agriculture issues on the 21st of March. The Saudi delegation headed by Minister of Agriculture Dr. Fahd Balghunaim arrived Perth Airport in Western Australia was received by Saudi Charge D’affaires to Australia and New Zealand Reda bin Abdulmohsen Al-Nuzha. The Kingdom’s delegation includes Director General of Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organization Eng. Walid Al-Khuraiji, Undersecretary of Ministry of Culture and Information for Foreign Information Dr. Abdulaziz bin Saleh bin Salama, The Undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture for Fisheries Affairs Eng. Jaber Bin Mohammed AlShihri, Undersecretary Assistants of the Ministry of Agriculture for livestock affairs Dr Khaled Bin Mohammed Alfheed and a number of representatives of the ministries, governmental institutions,


and businessmen. Dr Emerson and Dr Balghunaim welcomed the friendly relations between Australia and Saudi Arabia, underpinned by substantial and long-standing economic relations. The JMC meeting, the first held since 2006, presented an important opportunity for discussions on re-invigorating and expanding trade, investment

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B and commercial ties, including in agriculture, manufactures, education, energy and resources. Ministers highlighted the importance of the private sector to expansion of the economic relationship. They welcomed the signing at the JMC meeting of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Australia-Saudi Business Council and the Council of Saudi Chambers establishing the Saudi-Australia Joint Business Council. Ministers noted also the opportunity presented by the JMC for business-to-business engagement. The JMC meeting was supported by four officials-level working group meetings held on 21 March and cover-



C ing: trade and investment; agriculture and food security; education and training; and energy and resources. Picture A: A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Chairman, Tom Harley and Mr Samir Gabbani, on behalf of Mr Abdullah Al-Mobty, Chairman of the Council of Saudi Chambers and witnessed by the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness Dr Craig Emerson and the Saudi Minister for Agriculture the Hon Dr Fahd bin Abdurahman Balghunaim, in Canberra. Picture B: NSW Deputy Premier of NSW, Andrew Stoner with Minister Balghunaim and the delegation. Picture C: Minister Balghunaim with Hon John Cobb MP, Dr. Abdulaziz bin Saleh bin Salama and Mr. Reda Al Nuzha. Picture D: Hon. Joe Ludwig, Australian Minister for Agriculture with Dr. Fahd Balghunaim. Picture E: Ambassador of Australia in Saudi Arabia Mr Neil Hawkins F with Dr. Walid AlKhuraiji and Mr. Reda Al Nuzha. Picture F: Minister G Balghunaim with Australian Minister of Trade, Hon. Dr. Craig Emmerson. Picture G: Dr. Abdulaziz bin Saleh bin Salama and Eng. Jaber Bin Mohammed Al-Shihri during the official talk

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ustralian businesses will have greater opportunity to engage with one of the fastest growing international trade markets following the establishment of the Australia-Saudi Business Council. The Council was established in partnership between the Australian Industry Group and the Council of Saudi Chambers after a gap was identified for greater information and support on the ground for Australian business trying to navigate the Saudi market. Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said: “Saudi Arabia is a diverse and sophisticated export market with a particular interest in Australian products – including cars, infrastructure and mining technology. This Council will help business further explore this market.” Joint- Managing Director of Dragoman and Chairman of the Australia-Saudi Business Council Tom Harley, said: “Saudi Arabia is already well recognised for its student exchange programs and I think there is certainly further scope for deeper engagement – beyond trade to education and cultural exchange.”

Thouraya Obaid has been an executive director of the U.N. Development Program for 10 years Shura Council member Thouraya Obaid was picked on Wednesday as Saudi Arabia’s person of the year. The Saudi MP will be granted the King Abdel Aziz medal as part of the country’s national heritage and culture festival, popularly known as Janadriyah. Obaid was among 30 women appointed by King Abdullah in January to the Shura Council, a historic move that allowed women for the first time to be part of Saudi Arabia’s formal advisory body. She has been an executive director of the U.N. Development Program for 10 years and regarded as the first Arab woman to hold a U.N. post. Abdulmohsen bin Abdulaziz Al-Tuwaijri, deputy chairman of the festival’s supreme committee, made the announcement in a press conference Wednesday, adding that China was going to be the festivals’ key guest.

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ver the past six months, the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AACCI) and the Australia Gulf Council (AGC) have been engaged in negotiations to coordinate our approach to promote bilateral trade and investment relations between Australia and the Middle East and North Africa. We are delighted to announce that these negotiations have resulted in the merger of the AGC with AACCI, which is effective immediately. Rationale for the Merger The rationale for a merger of AACCI and AGC is a strong one. Both organisations are targeting essentially the same market. However due to the fact that there are two organisations operating in the same region there has developed a fragmented approach to presenting “Australia” in the Middle East, and a fragmented approach to presenting opportunities from the Middle East back into Australia. A merger of AGC into AACCI is a strong fit with the mission and the strategic vision of both organisations. The merged entity fills critical gaps in both organisations’ strategy and capabilities.

We believe that the complementary offering of both AACCI and the AGC will deliver high-level outcomes for our partners, members and indeed Australia. We believe that we can achieve far more as one organisation than as two. What will change? The merged organisation will be branded AACCI - this is for the reason that the name “Chamber of Commerce” holds significant importance in the Arab World as the local Chambers license all businesses operating in their countries - they don’t have an ASIC to do this. Additionally, the Arab Chambers only recognise export documents stamped by a Chamber of Commerce - this is a significant piece of AACCI’s current operations. The AGC operations will continue under the AACCI brand as the ‘Australia Arab Business Circle’. AGC’s CEO Jonathan Herps has been appointed the AACCI CEO. Georgie Skipper, an AGC Director will be appointed to the National Board of AACCI. AACCI looks forward to developing an organisation that can deliver high-level commercial outcomes for our partners and members.By limiting the overlap between the two organisations, we believe such a merger will derive significant outcomes for Australia’s trade and investment relationship with the Arab League. Thank you for your ongoing support of AACCI. We look forward to working with you as AACCI embarks on this exciting new development. Our aim is to ensure we can facilitate real business opportunities for your business and to further develop Australia’s trade and investment relationship with the Arab world.

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he 28th National Cultural and Heritage Festival at Janadriyah open its doors following an official opening by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. One of this year’s highlights are talks by over 300 thinkers and writers from around the world, discussing Saudi Arabia’s international position, the political state of Arab countries, Islamic politics, national economics, the Arabic language and its identity challenges, among many other topics, according to an official press release. The Janadriya Festival, named so after the Janadriyah Village in Riyadh region, is organized annually by the National Guard and known as a hub of creativity in the Kingdom, with vendors gathering from all corners of the country to trade in handmade crafts, antiques, traditional cuisine. Cultural activities are also organized on the sidelines of the festival. Every year, the Janadriyah Festival invites a guest of honor to participate in the celebrations and enforce political and social ties with the guest country. This year, China is that guest of honor. Visitors will be introduced to Chinese culture and heritage through exhibitions and presentations at the festival’s Chinese Wing. The festival launches with the first of several camel races, a long-standing festival tradition. Over 1,200 participants have entered this year’s camel races and will compete across six individual competitions for prizes worth SR1.5 million and 10 cars. The festival also hosts several horse races and endurance races as part of its entertainment schedule. Several new organizations are participating in the festival this year, including the General Directorate for the Two Holy Mosques, the National Center for

Palms and Dates, the Saudi Electricity Company and the Saudi Food and Drug Authority. The festival ground is divided into several sections, each focusing on one of Saudi Arabia’s principalities, as well as grounds for delegations from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, each with their individual section, as well as a standalone section for the remaining GCC countries. One of the most anticipated events every year is the Saudi National Dance (A’rda), which emphasizes the unity of Saudi Arabia as well as its roles of strength and leadership.


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April 2013 issue 60  
April 2013 issue 60