Tag Archive | "day of rage"

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The Gulf Revolutions Are Underway

Posted on 19 May 2011 by hashimilion

Omanis recently took part in massive demonstrations in the northern city of Sohar and were knocking on the doors of Abu Dhabi. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the last dictatorial powers in the region cannot ignore democracy. The people of the Gulf are fed up with the Gulf ruling elites and have awakened from their 40 year old slumber. It’s true that they’re not as poor as the Egyptians or Tunisians, but they are become increasingly more aware that a country’s wealth belong to the state and the state alone.

Some wikileaks documents suggest that peak oil production levels in the Gulf have already been met and that current supplies will only be sufficient for a couple more decades. These backward political regimes have lead to poor planning and corruption. The future for the youth is not so great.

Bahrain has given us a glimpse of what lies ahead in the future. Its oil reserves have diminished and its unable to change its fiscal policy or  turn itself into a modern state. For decades bahrainis have contributed towards the state but were denied any meaningful political representation by the ruling family. They were left with few options and hence took matters into their own hands. The Al Khalifa regime responded by using live ammunition and immediately unleashed their Pakistani mercenaries on the demonstrators. The regime had showed its true colours.

The regimes of both Saudi Arabia and UAE gave the Al Khalifa family unlimited moral support in crushing the protests by all means necessary. Both regimes tried to bribe their populations with financial incentives in order to stop the protests from spreading. The Saudi King Abdullah announced a 36 billion dollar spending program, which was promptly rejected by the protestors who felt insulted.

Saudi protestors chose the 11th of March as their day of rage, and openly called for overthrowing Al Saud’s regime. Had live ammunition been used on the protestors it would have catalysed protests in the Emirates. Thousands of UAE nationals are ignored by the oil rich states of Abu Dhabi and Dubai and live in modest conditions in the poor Northern Emirates. The majority are angry at the huge economic gap in wealth between the different federations  and at being excluded from participating in major policy decisions. Some are curious why large coastal lands were sold to foreign investors.

Also, a large number of stateless people live in both the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. They were born and brought up in the country of their grandfathers, yet find it perplexing that the regime’s friends nationalises Indians and westerners.

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Fear And Loathing In The House of Saud

Posted on 20 April 2011 by hashimilion

Early last week, US President Barack Obama sent a letter to Saudi King Abdullah, delivered in person in Riyadh by US National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon. This happened less than a week after Pentagon head Robert Gates spent a full 90 minutes face to face with the king.

These two moves represented the final seal of approval of a deal struck between Washington and Riyadh even before the voting of UN Security Council resolution 1973. Essentially, the Obama administration will not say a word about how the House of Saud conducts its ruthless repression of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain and across the Persian Gulf. No ”humanitarian” operations. No R2P (”responsibility to protect”). No no-fly or no-drive zones.

Progressives of the world take note: the US-Saudi counter-revolution against the Great 2011 Arab Revolt is now official.

Those ‘pretty influential guys’

The wealthy, truculent clan posing as a perpetual absolute monarchy that goes by the name House of Saud wins on all fronts.

Last month’s ”Day of Rage” inside the kingdom was ruthlessly preempted – with the (literal) threat that protesters would have their fingers cut off.

With the price of crude reaching stratospheric levels, and with Saudi refusal to increase production, it’s a no brainer for Riyadh to dispense with a few billion dollars in pocket change to appease its subjects with some extra 60,000 ”security” jobs and 500,000 low-rent apartments.

King Abdullah also recently ”received a verbal message” from the emir of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, on the thriving ”bilateral issues” – as in Saudi Arabia ruthlessly repressing the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain by invading their neighbor and deploying their ”security” advisers.

The House of Saud’s violent reaction to the peaceful protests in Bahrain may have been a message to Washington – as in ”we are in charge of the Persian Gulf”. But most of all it was dictated by an absolute fear of Bahrain becoming a constitutional monarchy that would reduce the king to a figurehead; a nefarious example to the Saudi neighbors.

Yet as much as real tensions between Iranian Shi’ites and Arab Shi’ites may persist, the Saudi reaction will end up uniting all Shi’ites, and turning Iran into Bahrain’s only savior.

As for Washington’s reaction, it was despicable to start with. When Sunnis in Iraq oppressed the Shi’ite majority, the result was Iraq shocked and awed to destruction by the neo-cons. When the same happens in Bahrain, liberal hawks have the Sunnis get away with it. (As much as there’s been plenty of spinning to the contrary, the Pentagon’s Gates knew Saudi Arabia would invade Bahrain on the spot, on a Saturday (the invasion started on Sunday night).

Not that Washington cares that much any way or another. Last week, in a Chicago restaurant, President Obama qualified the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa, as a ”pretty influential guy”. He praised him as ”a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East’.’ But Obama didn’t notice there was an open mike, and CBS News was listening; so he added, ”he himself is not reforming significantly. There’s no big move towards democracy in Qatar. But you know part of the reason is that the per capita income of Qatar is $145,000 a year. That will dampen a lot of conflict.”

Translation; who cares whether these ”pretty influential guys” in the Gulf reform or not as long as they remain our allies?

The Saudi war of terror

Way back in 1965, the opposition in Bahrain was accused (by the colonial British press) of Arab nationalism (the nightmare of assorted colonialists and also US imperial designs). Now, it is accused (by the al-Khalifas and House of Saud) of sectarianism.

The House of Saud has predictably terrorized the majority-Shi’ite democracy movement in Bahrain with fear, loathing and – what else – sectarianism, the ultimate pillar of its medieval Wahhabi ideology. For intolerant Wahhabis, Shi’ites are as heretical as Christians. Shi’ite holy sites in Bahrain are being demolished under the supervision of Saudi troops. Bahrainis via twitter are stressing Saudis are using ”Israeli tactics”, demolishing ”unauthorized” mosques.

Once again, this may only lead to a total radicalization of the Sunni-Shi’ite divide across the Arab world. Everyone who followed the Bush administration-provoked Iraq tragedy remembers that when al-Qaeda blew up the revered Shi’ite shrine of al-Askari in Samarra, in 2006, that was the start of a horrible sectarian war that killed tens of thousands of people and sent hundreds of thousands into exile.

The House of Saud (as well as the US and Israel) backed Mubarak in Egypt until the 11th hour. They all knew if that ”pillar of stability” fell, the other (Saudi) would also be in danger. For all its bluster, the House of Saud’s actions are essentially moved by fear. In recent years it has lost power in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and now Egypt. Its ”foreign policy” consists in supporting ultra-reactionary regimes. The people? Let them eat kebab – if that. Their last bastion of power is the Gulf – crammed with political midgets such as Bahrain or Kuwait. With a little thrust, The House of Saud could reduce all these to the status of mere provinces.

Not yet. As the House of Saud developed its counter-revolutionary strategy, the Saudi-Israeli alliance morphed into a Saudi-Qatari alliance. Qatar could be destabilized via the tribal factor – the Saudis had attempted it before – but now they needed a close ally. And that, unfortunately, explains Qatar-based al-Jazeera’s meek coverage of the repression in Bahrain.

It took only a few days for the House of Saud to force the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to toe the new hard line: we are the top dog; there’s no room for democracy in the Gulf; sectarianism is the way to go; our relationship with Israel is now strategic; and Iran is to blame for everything. The ”Persian conspiracy” is the key theme being deployed by the hefty Saudi propaganda machine especially in Bahrain and Kuwait.

Israeli hawks, not surprisingly, love it. There’s plenty of flower power – or downright lunatic – rhetoric in the Israeli press about a ”strategic alliance” between Tel Aviv and Riyadh, ”similar to the one between the Soviet Union and the US against the Nazis”.

And guess what – Obama is to blame for it. Without this strategic alliance, according to the Israeli narrative, the whole Gulf will fall ”victim of a nuclear Iran”, and the Obama administration won’t lift a finger to save anybody. Obama is vilified as someone who ”only confronts and abandons allies”, while emboldening ”evil” Syria and Iran. It’s a narrative straight out of the Loony Tunes.

Shallow grave or bust

Trying to understand the stakes, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal got it all backwards, blaring there’s a new Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran. That’s what you get when you regurgitate PR by ”Saudi officials”.

It’s the House of Saud incendiary manipulation of sectarianism which is angering Shi’ites everywhere – not only Iranians; that may turn the Islamic Republic into the only substantial defender of all Shi’ites against Wahhabi medievalism.

It’s the House of Saud counter-revolution against the Great 2011 Arab Revolt – condoned by the US – that has shattered America’s ”credibility on democracy and reform”.

All this while the ”traditional security arrangement” with Washington is not even working anymore. The House of Saud is not stabilizing global oil prices; by refusing to increase production, it will let it reach $160 a barrel-levels quite soon. And meanwhile the White House/Pentagon keeps protecting that medieval bunch that were the first to recognize the Taliban in the mid-1990s, and whose billionaires finance jihadis all across the world.

The Gulf political midgets are now in the process of being homogenized – and kept under a leash – by House of Saud force. Those Gulf kings and emirs may preserve their golden thrones – for now. But expect plenty of cultural and religious violence ahead; plenty of nasty tribalism and sectarian wars, with no possible political evolution and no possible development of a modern civil society. No surprise; fear and loathing are embedded in this reactionary House – an axis of multiple evils in itself that should only deserve a shallow grave in the desert sands.

By Pepe Escobar

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Guarding the Fortress

Posted on 06 April 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia, fortified by its oil wealth, Wahhabi ideology and blanket American protection, finds itself drifting in the uncharted waters of a new Arab awakening fashioned in revolt.

SAUDI ARABIA APPEARS FROM THE OUTSIDE AS A BEGUILING FORTRESS HOUSING A remote Kingdom guarded by robed, well-oiled royals. This desert fortress is sustained by unlimited hydrocarbon resources, bringing fabulous wealth to its intoxicated rulers and sedating the inhabitants. Minarets serve as watchtowers of orthodoxy and dogma. The fortress has also remained strong because of a protective alliance with a foreign power, the United States (US), that chooses a romanticised vision of a kingdom that offers harmonious exchange and a false sense of security.

But the waves of revolution, dissent and sedition are lashing against the fortress’s very foundations, deepening cracks of this political structure built on shifting sand. King Abdullah and his thousands of royal brothers, nephews and assorted hangers-on have watched the fall of fellow dictators, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Others in their death throes, like Muammar Al Gaddafi of Libya and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, refuse to see the writing on the wall. The Saudi Royals’ younger brother King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah of Bahrain, kowtowing to Saudi diktat, has now made his choice by inviting Saudi military into his troubled land. Even the docile Jordanian monarch Abdullah II and his normally forgotten brotherly neighbour Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman are floundering.

No state in the Arab world is being spared the sudden wrath of its people. The old strategic criteria of dividing the region on the basis of oil versus non-oil states, or of alliances with the United States, now fails to hold water. There are no longer any guarantees, with or without American support, for protecting regional rulers from the legitimate demands of their people. The people have made common cause, rising from years of misrule and repression, through the use of new technologies in new media adopted by young people. The demographics of the population are simply too lopsided in favour of younger generations versus the old ruling oligarchy. All these factors are plentiful in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: a youthful majority, an abundance of computers, and deepening social and political resentments and alienation.

The Saudi Kingdom contains within its fortress walls a deeper rot: an arbitrary coercive and corrupt system that denies its subjects its fundamental political rights and social justice. The Saudi royals do not even grasp what it is that their people are demanding. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all helped bring down the walls of opacity. The seventy percent of the Kingdom’s population who are under the age of thirty are predominantly Internet savvy.

They are asking for the creation of a constitutional monarchy, parliamentary elections, the release of thousands of political prisoners being held without trial or representation, an end to the endemic and massive royal corruption, reform of the judiciary and the minimising of perks and privileges afforded the 22,000 members of the House of Saud, as well as meeting demands to curtail the influence of the religious establishment.

Talk of a ‘Day of Rage’ scheduled for March 11 captured the world’s attention. To stop the increasingly corrosive developments, the Saudi state has equipped itself with the biggest carrot and largest stick in the Arab world. The carrot comprises the king’s promise of 37 billion dollars to his country’s agitated younger generations – a fifteen percent pay raise for government employees, aid for students and the unemployed, and access to sport clubs – something that only a Croseus-rich monarch like King Abdullah could hope to deliver. Nowhere are subjects offered such largess to buy off their loyalties.

Since thousands of voices using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube expressed ingratitude for such a ‘benevolent’ act, the state then decided to deploy its catch-all religious fall-back to warn its subjects that demonstrations and protests are un- Islamic. Using the pretext of the Saudi Kingdom as the ultimate guardian of the Islamic faith and custodian of the holy mosques, the state claimed to be protecting its population from the sins of other Middle Eastern youth. There have been in recent days mass arrests of those calling for reform, and multiple websites have been blocked. The Saudi bogeyman, thousands of security forces backed by armour on the street and helicopters hovering over city skies, act as an iron-fisted warning against any dissent. The Saudi rulers are beyond the reproach of their people.

Meanwhile the United States, traditional protector and ‘custodian of the holy oil fields,’ has lapsed into diplomatic torpor. The US has guarded the Kingdom from external threats through the sales of hundreds of billions of dollars of high-tech arms. Since 1945, the stationing of American forces in Dhahran near the critical oil fields have been crucial for Saudi security and are the lifeblood of American and world economy. The US never alluded to the subject of democracy in its support of the Saudi rulers and deliberately did not deal with the people, remaining constant in their policy for the survival of the Al Saud. The pact between Riyadh and Washington was to always protect the Kingdom’s fortress and not to get embroiled with the multitude of tribes, sects, regions, and ethnic groups.

The big carrot and stick have bought the Saudi rulers a temporary sense of control. But the faces of millions of screaming, self-liberated Arabs beaming at them on the screens of Al Jazeera have increased the tension. Prince Naif, interior minister and crown prince in waiting, may continue to repeat the Kingdom’s slogan: “What we took by the sword, we will hold by the sword.” But the traditional sword is dull, limited, and unable to meet the challenges of the moment. The Saudi rulers are also using the sectarian discourse both for the US and for their Sunni populations, portraying the Shi’a as the scary spectre seeking dominance and a dangerous alliance with Iran. They also are using the divide and rule policy to warn their Sunni population against the internal Shi’a enemy.

The most challenging group to the Saudi rulers is currently the Shi’a, who constitute 75 percent of the population in the Eastern Province, the Kingdom’s main oil-producing region. The Shi’a were also the first to respond to the eruptions of demonstrations in the Arab region despite the legal ban on demonstrations. The Shi’a have experienced loss of lives and imprisonment since 1979 because of their defiance.

The strategic regional predominance of Saudi Arabia through its oil wealth has allowed the country’s rulers to freeze reform. This policy offers temporary political respite for the kingdom, but the frozen body politic is brittle and can easily break. The danger is that continued repression of peaceful protests can lead to violence and radicalisation. At the moment, Islamic extremism and Al Qaeda have no space in the Arab movements of the people, but if this desperation continues to be confined to computer screens while political representation and expression is forbidden, then Al Qaeda will find renewed space.

By Dr Mai Yamani

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Iran Calls Saudi Troops in Bahrain ‘Unacceptable’

Posted on 15 March 2011 by hashimilion

A day after Saudi Arabia’s military rolled into Bahrain, the Iranian government branded the move “unacceptable” on Tuesday, threatening to escalate a local political conflict into a regional showdown with Iran.

“The presence of foreign forces and interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs is unacceptable and will further complicate the issue,” Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman told a news conference in Tehran, according to state-run media.

Even as predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran pursues a determined crackdown against dissent at home, Tehran has supported the protests led by the Shiite majority in Bahrain.

“People have some legitimate demands and they are expressing them peacefully,” Mr. Memanparast said. “It should not be responded to violently.”

“We expect their demands be fulfilled through correct means,” Mr. Mehmanparast added. Iran’s response — while anticipated — showed the depth of rivalry across the Persian Gulf in a contest that has far-reaching consequences in many parts of the Middle East.

On Monday, Iranian state-run media went so far as to call the troop movement an invasion. Saudi Arabia has been watching uneasily as Bahrain’s Shiite majority has staged weeks of protests against a Sunni monarchy, fearing that if the protesters prevailed, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s bitter regional rival, could expand its influence and inspire unrest elsewhere.

The Saudi decision to send in troops on Monday could further inflame the conflict and transform this teardrop of a nation in the Persian Gulf into the Middle East’s next proxy battlefield between regional and global powers. On Tuesday, there was no immediate indication that the Saudi forces were confronting protesters in the central Pearl Square — the emblem of the Bahrain protest much as Cairo’s Tahrir Square assumed symbolic significance in the Egyptian uprising.

Several hundred protesters camped out there on what seemed initially to be a quiet day with little traffic on the streets as the details of the deployment by Bahrain’s neighbors — and their mission — remained ill-defined.

On Monday, about 2,000 troops — 1,200 from Saudi Arabia and 800 from the United Arab Emirates — entered Bahrain as part of a force operating under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation regional coalition of Sunni rulers that has grown increasingly anxious over the sustained challenge to Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. “This is the initial phase,” a Saudi official said. “Bahrain will get whatever assistance it needs. It’s open-ended.”

The decision is the first time the council has used collective military action to help suppress a popular revolt — in this case a Shiite popular revolt. It was rejected by the opposition, and by Iran, as an “occupation.” Iran has long claimed that Bahrain is historically part of Iran.

The troops entered Bahrain at an especially combustible moment in the standoff between protesters and the monarchy. In recent days protesters have begun to move from the encampment in Pearl Square, the symbolic center of the nation, to the actual seat of power and influence, the Royal Court and the financial district. As the troops moved in, protesters controlled the main highway and said they were determined not to leave.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” Jassim Hussein Ali, a member of the opposition Wefaq party and a former member of Parliament, said in a phone interview. “Bahrain is heading toward major problems, anarchy. This is an occupation, and this is not welcome.”

Rasool Nafisi, an academic and Iran expert based in Virginia, said: “Now that the Saudis have gone in, they may spur a similar reaction from Iran, and Bahrain becomes a battleground between Saudi and Iran. This may prolong the conflict rather than put an end to it, and make it an international event rather than a local uprising.”

An adviser to the United States government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, agreed. “Iran’s preference was not to get engaged because the flow of events was in their direction,” he said. “If the Saudi intervention changes the calculus, they will be more aggressive.”

Though Bahrain said it had invited the force, the Saudi presence highlights the degree to which the kingdom has become concerned over Iran’s growing regional influence, and demonstrates that the Saudi monarchy has drawn the line at its back door. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a close ally of Washington, has traditionally preferred to operate in the shadows through checkbook diplomacy. It has long provided an economic lifeline to Bahrain.

But it now finds itself largely standing alone to face Iran since its most important ally in that fight, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, has been ousted in a popular uprising. Iran’s ally, Hezbollah, recently toppled the Saudi-backed government of Lebanon — a symbol of its regional might and Saudi Arabia’s diminishing clout.

But Bahrain is right at Saudi Arabia’s eastern border, where the kingdoms are connected by a causeway.

The Gulf Cooperation Council was clearly alarmed at the prospect of a Shiite political victory in Bahrain, fearing that it would inspire restive Shiite populations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to protest as well. The majority of the population in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, where the oil is found, is Shiite, and there have already been small protests there.

“If the opposition in Bahrain wins, then Saudi loses,” said Mustafa el-Labbad, director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “In this regional context, the decision to move troops into Bahrain is not to help the monarchy of Bahrain, but to help Saudi Arabia itself .”

The Bahrain government said that it had invited the force in to help restore and preserve public order. The United States — which has continued to back the monarchy — said Monday that the move was not an occupation. The United States has long been allied with Bahrain’s royal family and has based the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain for many years.

Though the United States eventually sided with the demonstrators in Egypt, in Bahrain it has instead supported the leadership while calling for restraint and democratic change. The Saudi official said the United States was informed Sunday that the Saudi troops would enter Bahrain on Monday.

Saudi and council officials said the military forces would not engage with the demonstrators, but would protect infrastructure, government offices and industries, even though the protests had largely been peaceful. The mobilization would allow Bahrain to free up its own police and military forces to deal with the demonstrators, the officials said.

The Gulf Cooperation Council “forces are not there to kill people,” said a Saudi official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. “This is a G.C.C. decision; we do not violate international law.”

But the officials also acknowledged that it was a message to Iran. “There is no doubt Iran is involved,” said the official, though no proof has been offered that Iran has had anything to do with the political unrest.

Political analysts said that it was likely that the United States did not object to the deployment in part because it, too, saw a weakened monarchy as a net benefit to Iran at a time when the United States wants to move troops out of Iraq, where Iran has already established an influence.

The military force is one part of a Gulf Cooperation Council effort to try to contain the crisis in Bahrain that broke out Feb. 14, when young people called for a Day of Rage, fashioned after events in Egypt and Tunisia. The police and then the army killed seven demonstrators, leading Washington to press Bahrain to remove its forces from the street.

The royal family allowed thousands of demonstrators to camp at Pearl Square. It freed some political prisoners, allowed an exiled opposition leader to return and reshuffled the cabinet. And it called for a national dialogue.

But the concessions — after the killings — seemed to embolden a movement that went from calling for a true constitutional monarchy to demanding the downfall of the monarchy. The monarchy has said it will consider instituting a fairly elected Parliament, but it insisted that the first step would be opening a national dialogue — a position the opposition has rejected, though it was unclear whether the protesters were speaking with one voice.

The council moved troops in after deciding earlier to help prop up the king with a contribution of $10 billion over 10 years, and said that it might increase that figure. But if the goal was to intimidate Iran, or the protesters, that clearly was not the first response.

Bahrain’s opposition groups issued a statement: “We consider the entry of any soldier or military machinery into the Kingdom of Bahrain’s air, sea or land territories a blatant occupation.”

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Saudi Authorities Free 25 Shiites Detained During Demonstrations

Posted on 10 March 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabian authorities released 25 Shiites arrested during protests in the Eastern Province earlier this month, according an activist.

The detainees were released yesterday, Ibrahim Al- Mugaiteeb, president of the Human Rights First Society, based in al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, said today in a phone interview.

Shiites in al-Qatif held a demonstration on March 3, attended by about 100 people and heavily policed, to demand the release of prisoners. Another rally of a similar size took place in the eastern village of Awwamiya the same day, while on March 4, protesters in al-Hofuf demanded the release of Shiite cleric Tawfiq al-Amir. Activists said he was freed two days later.

Activists have called for a nationwide “Day of Rage” on March 11, and a Facebook Inc. page advocating the plan has more than 30,000 followers. The kingdom’s Council of Senior Islamic Scholars this week condemned protests as forbidden, and the Interior Ministry warned that demonstrations, marches and sit- ins are “strictly” prohibited.

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Saudi Activists Call For Major Reforms

Posted on 28 February 2011 by hashimilion

More than 100 Saudi academics, activists and businessmen have called for major reforms including the establishment of a “constitutional monarchy” in the kingdom, in an Internet statement on Sunday.

“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 132 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 that led to the arrest of activists in 2003-2004.

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

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

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 ageing monarchy has been slow in introducing reforms.

Another petition from journalists, lawyers and activists, labelling themselves as the “youth”, also addressed King Abdullah on Wednesday, urging him to introduce reforms.

The group demanded reducing the average number of members of the consultative council and the cabinet to 45, and 40 respectively, and allowing women to be present in both.

Saudi Arabia held landmark municipal elections in 2005, allowing citizens to choose half the members of their local councils. Women were however banned from participating.

But in 2009, the government extended the tenure of existing municipal councils by two years.

Meanwhile, two appeals for a “Day of Rage” in Saudi Arabia on March 11 have been posted on Facebook urging political, social and economic reforms in the kingdom. One had 12,600 fans by Sunday night.

Another Facebook page calls for a “Saudi revolution” on March 20, following in the steps of cyber-activists who led uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that ousted their respective presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the latter a close ally of Riyadh.

The revolts have also spilled over into Yemen, Bahrain and Oman.

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 the youth, civil servants and the unemployed and comes as uprisings against ruling regimes spread across the Arab world.

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