Saudi activists call for major reforms

AFP , Sunday 27 Feb 2011

More than 100 Saudi academics, activists and businessmen have called for major reforms including the establishment of a "constitutional monarchy" in the conservative Gulf kingdom

In a statement posted Sunday on the Internet, calls for reform has been put into form. "We will submit these requests to King Abdullah at a later stage," said Khaled al-Dakhil, a political science professor at the King Saud University and one of the 123 signatories of the petition.

"We have high hopes that these reforms will be implemented," Dakhil told AFP. "Now is the time."

The petition posted on the Internet calls for the election rather than appointment of a Shura consultative council, and the creation of a constitutional monarchy -- a demand which led to the arrest of activists in 2003-2004.

It also calls for expanded participation of women in social and political life in the oil-rich country.

Saudi Arabia controls one quarter of the world's oil reserves, but unemployment among the kingdom's youth stands at 10 percent and women are largely kept out of the work force.

Despite warnings by a senior member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, that "anything could happen" in the kingdom unless it speeded up reforms, the conservative, ageing monarchy has been slow in introducing reforms.

In an apparent bid to keep his citizens happy, King Abdullah last week announced a boost in social benefits for Saudis, including a 15 percent pay rise for state employees and an increase in cash available for housing loans.

The package, worth an estimated $36 billion (26 billion euros), is mostly aimed at youth, civil servants and the unemployed and comes as uprisings against ruling regimes spread across the Arab world.

Popular revolts have toppled the regimes of two of the region's autocrats, Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a close ally of Riyadh.
The revolts have also spilled over into Yemen, Bahrain and Oman.

A page dedicated to Saudi Arabia has also surfaced on Facebook, urging political, social and economic reforms. The page has attracted close to 10,000 fans.

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