“It is necessary to begin a process of radical and overall reforms,” said 305 signatories of a petition sent to Crown Prince Abd Allah bin Abd al-Aziz last week entitled “For the Defence of the Homeland”.

 

There were 51 women among the signatories, an unprecedented event in male-dominated Saudi society.

 

Writer and activist Fawzia bu-Khaled said: “The petition we have signed is a form of dialogue. It expressed the opinions of a large part of different segments of society on how to deal with the crisis” facing the country.

 

The signatories, who included intellectuals, academics and businessmen, condemned “terrorism in all its forms”, but said “the delay in adopting radical reforms and the absence of popular consultation in decision-making are among the leading causes behind the dangerous change the country has seen."

 

In January this year, a similar petition was sent to the crown prince.

 

In it, more than 100 Saudi intellectuals called for a separation of powers, an elected parliament instead of the current appointed Shura (Consultative) Council, and the creation of civil society institutions that would promote a culture of tolerance and  dialogue.

 

The petition calls for political and social reforms, including recognition of women's rights

In the latest petition, the signatories listed "the fight against corruption and mismanagement of public funds," a fair distribution of wealth, and recognition of women's right to play a social and economic role as "pressing issues that should be settled as part of comprehensive reforms" in the kingdom.

 

It also urged action on corruption, distribution of wealth and unemployment, estimated at 12%.

 

In early August, Saudi authorities announced plans to create a  new institute to promote dialogue in society about the issues facing the kingdom.

 

King Abd al-Aziz Centre for National Dialogue will be a  "cornerstone in starting a dialogue ... to introduce reforms and preserve the country's future against the dangers threatening it both within and outside," said Saudi activist Abd Allah Omar Nassif.

 

The Shura Council's powers are limited to reviewing government-sponsored bills and making recommendations to the cabinet, which are not binding.

 

Saudi Arabia, which sits on a quarter of the world's oil  reserves, bans political parties or groups, and has no elected  labour associations or unions. Elections are virtually

non-existent.