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11 December 2023

Saudis use Facebook to press for reform


Saudis seeking to emulate fellow Arabs by using the web to push for change have created a group on Facebook urging political, social and economic reforms that by Tuesday had nearly 2,000 members.

"The people want to reform the regime" group calls for a constitutional monarchy, transparency, parliamentary elections, an independent and fair judicial system, anti-corruption measures and respect for human and women's rights.

It also urges "the equal distribution of wealth" and "seriously addressing the problem of unemployment" in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom.

An absolute monarchy, Saudi Arabia has held just one set of elections in its history and those polls in 2005 were to pick just half of the members of 178 municipal councils with the rest being appointed by the authorities.

Women were denied the vote and a repetition of the polls due in 2009 was postponed and is not expected until later this year.

Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in a wave of anti-government protests around the Arab world fanned by poverty and unemployment that have grown into major revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

In Tunisia, protesters managed to topple veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month, while anti-government protests in Egypt entered their third week on Tuesday.

The number of Facebook users in the Arab world rose by 78 percent in 2010, jumping from less than 12 million to around 21 million, according to a report published by the Dubai School of Government.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has been an outspoken defender of Arab governments in their efforts to face down the protests.

The kingdom's top Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh, said on Friday that the protests were "chaotic acts" aimed at tearing apart the Islamic world.

Late last month, King Abdullah expressed support for embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a telephone call and condemned those "tampering" with the country's security and stability.