Liberal civil society groups in Gulf states called Monday on Saudi and Bahraini leaders to postpone plans to announce a union between them, saying such a step must be preceded by a referendum.
"We urge the Saudi and Bahraini leaderships to review such a step and calculate the reactions of the two peoples," the Gulf Forum for Civil Societies said in a statement signed by its secretary general Anwar al-Rasheed.
"We believe that postponing the announcement of such a step at this time will be appropriate," said the forum which consists of mostly liberal activists from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.
A consultative summit later Monday of leaders of the GCC states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia -- could discuss a proposal to transform their six-nation council into a union.
The exact nature of this union, first floated by Saudi King Abdullah in December, remains unclear but Bahrain's state minister for information, Samira Rajab, said it could follow the "European Union model."
The forum said a Saudi-Bahraini union "will not succeed if it is not preceded by taking the opinions of the Saudi and Bahraini peoples in order to gain legitimacy," and called for a European Union-style referendum.
The activists said that actions by the energy-rich GCC governments have so far been directed at averting the impact of sweeping pro-democracy protests in the Arab world but without fulfilling the ambitions of the people.
Bahrain Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman said on Sunday the Gulf union has become urgent, in comments that were immediately followed by criticism from the Sunni-ruled and Shiite-majority kingdom's main opposition formation Al-Wefaq.