Gulf activists call for democracy in region

AFP , Wednesday 9 Feb 2011

Gulf activists on Wednesday urged conservative monarchies which have ruled the region for centuries to embrace democracy and freedom of expression.

Activists in the the Gulf also warned their authorities, especially in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, against cracking down on activists planning to stage peaceful protests, and urged the United Arab Emirates to release an activist arrested last week.

"We hope that the ruling families in the Gulf realise the importance of democratic transformation to which our people aspire," said a statement signed by the coordinator of the Gulf Civil Society Forum, Anwar al-Rasheed.

The Forum includes dozens of liberal intellectuals, academics, writers and rights activists drawn from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

The group also called for the ruling families to "understand that it is time to free all political detainees and prisoners of conscience and issue constitutions that meet modern day demands."

"The Gulf peoples look forward for their countries to be among nations supporting freedom, the rule of law and civil and democratic rule which have become a part of peoples' basic rights," the statement said.

The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, most of which do not have constitutions.
Only Kuwait and Bahrain have elected parliaments with legislative powers, but in Kuwait unelected ministers automatically become MPs while in Bahrain an appointed upper house has the power to block parliamentary resolutions.

The statement called on Bahraini authorities to deal peacefully with a protest planned next Monday by activists whose demands include the release of political prisoners and the resignation of the prime minister.

The statement also warned Saudi security agencies against using repressive means to curb protests and demonstrations.
Saudi activists launched a campaign on Facebook -- a social networking website tapped in Tunisia's uprising and Egypt's revolt -- to call for a constitutional monarchy, parliamentary elections and an independent judiciary.

The Forum also condemned the "repressive arrest" of Emirati citizen Hassan Mohamed al-Hammadi, who was detained last Friday after delivering a speech in support of the Egyptian uprising, and called for his immediate release.

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