Saudi reformers intensify calls for change

CS Monitor: In a move timed to the king’s return Wednesday, a group of 40 young Saudis, mostly journalists and rights activists, have signed an open “Letter to the King.”

The signers say they were inspired by Arab youth elsewhere, and by the king’s encouragement of national dialogue. They asked for elections for the advisory Shura Council, the right of women to vote and run as candidates, strong anticorruption measures, and greater fiscal transparency and accountability.

In addition, they want the Cabinet reshuffled so that ministers’ average age, now 65, is reduced to 40.

In another effort – albeit one that did not get very far – 10 moderate Islamists, including university professors and lawyers, defied the ban on political parties and announced they were forming the Islamic Umma Party.

“We think the royal family is not the only one who has the right to be leader of the country,” Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al Wohaibi, one of the party’s founders, said in an interview. “We should treat the royal family like any other group…. No special treatment.”

Asked if the group had been launched because of events in Egypt, Al Wohaibi replied that they “had created an environment for a movement like this.”

And last week, the king’s half-brother Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz said in a BBC TV interview that unless the king made further reforms the kingdom risked future revolution. Although Talal is a maverick with little support within the royal family, his remarks are being widely discussed by Saudis.

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