May 25, 2013
Pro-reform Saudi activists launch political party
Saudi Islamists and opposition activists have launched a political party in a rare challenge to the absolute monarchy, asking King Abdullah for a voice in the Gulf Arab state's governance, its organizers said.
The move was apparently prompted by popular revolts in the Arab world that toppled Tunisia's president last month and have loosened the grip of Egypt's autocratic leader.
But it was more an act of protest than an effective start-up of a political party since Saudi Arabia has no elected parliament and parties and public dissent are banned by the Al Saud monarchy, which rules the world's No. 1 oil exporting country in alliance with Sunni Muslim clerics.
There have been other attempts to form parties but analysts said the new "Islamic Umma" group appeared to be the first to be revealed publicly. They said members included Islamist intellectuals and lecturers, human rights activists and lawyers.
"You know well what big political development and improvement of freedom and human rights is currently happening in the Islamic world," the group of ten activists said in a letter to King Abdullah posted on their website.
"It's time to bring this development to the kingdom," they told the king, who is about 87 and now recuperating in Morocco after medical treatment in the United States.
Islamists and liberals both seek more political freedoms in Saudi Arabia and, while differing on details such as the rights of women, say that reform is their overriding goal.