Saudi Reformists demand that Saudi royal system be changed to a constitutional monarchy

They got a harsh response from Prince Nayef, the interior minister who leads the war against al-Qaeda. “The weak can’t challenge the mighty. We are not a regime that wants people to be satisfied with us. We are here in Saudi Arabia in order to rule,” he declared last weekend during two stormy meetings with two separate reformist delegations, which included notables, intellectuals, academics, and senior business figures.
In response to Nayef’s remarks, one participant remarked “We should understand from what you are saying that you are a regime that is working against the people.” debkafile sources report that this sharp exchange, which occurred at the beginning of the meeting, was later followed by a climactic outburst by a leading businessman who got up and said, “We haven’t gone down this whole road (of reform efforts) in order to regress now because of the way you are talking. If you want to throw us into prison, do it now before we leave this meeting.”
Such straight talking has not been heard before at meetings between members of the royal house and influential citizens. The royal family now faces double pressure: the war against al-Qaeda and a fast growing domestic demand for reform. The absence of essential reforms, and the refusal of members of the royal family even to discuss these reforms, is causing ever larger sections of the Saudi population to distance their support and themselves from the royal house. In such an atmosphere, young Saudis find themselves encouraged to join radical and militant opposition movements, such as al-Qaeda.
In order to explain their case, reformist spokesmen describe what really happened during meetings with the royal house in 2003. On two occasion, in January and June, reform-minded groups, consisting of intellectuals, businessmen, religious figures, women, and Shiite representatives from the eastern provinces, met face to face with Crown Prince Abdullah and handed him personally two petitions demanding changes in the kingdom’s political system. debkafile sources report that the petitions’ key demands were a war on corruption, the introduction of elections, the independence of the judiciary and equality for women. In both cases, the crown prince, who is less stubbornly opposed to reform than Prince Nayef, took the petitions, read them and promised the two delegations an answer. But in neither case did he deliver this answer.
Two months ago, in November, another group from the kingdom’s main cities organized an attempt to deliver a third petition. But this petition was very different to the previous two. Debka sources in the Gulf report that for the first time Saudi citizens expressed the wish that the Saudi royal system should be changed to a constitutional monarchy, and that power should be transferred from the royal house to institutions elected by direct and free vote. Not only does this petition challenge the very status of the royal family, but it lays down a framework and timetable for the change to take place. It should all happen, says the petition, within three years. In the first year, there should be a general election, something that has never happened since the Saudi kingdom was first established. The next two years should see the transfer of power from the royal house to the elected parliament.
debkafile sources report that at the beginning of December, people close to Prince Abdullah promised the organizers of the November petition that the crown prince would meet and talk with them at the Saudi culture festival “Jandariyah” in mid-December, and that they would be able to hand him their petition. But that did not happen; the people that were chosen to deliver the petition waited in vain. At the same time, courtiers put heavy pressure on the families of the signatories to persuade them to withdraw their support from the petition. Because of this pressure, 10 of the original signatories cancelled their signatures.
Last week, the royal house organized a four-day seminar in Mecca to which reformist groups were invited. Again, courtiers promised that the crown prince would see them and listen to what they had to say. But our sources report that instead of the crown prince, the reformists were invited to talk to senior officials of the royal house. At these talks, the officials tried to divide the reformists on sectarian ground, creating two camps, one Shiite and one Sunni. At the end of this exchange the Sunni reformers were invited to go to Riyadh and meet with Prince Nayef, where they got the rough treatment already described.

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