Saudi group pushes for reforms

Amid concerns about a deteriorating social fabric, Saudi Arabian clerics and intellectuals called for wider political participation in the kingdom, fair distribution of wealth and changes to an education system accused of fostering extremists.

    They presented their recommendations to Crown Prince Abdullah at a four-day conference which is seeking to curb radical religious expression – including restricting the right to declare jihad.

    Encouraged by Prince Abdullah’s call in January for reforms across the Arab world, Saudi liberals say democratic change is vital to give citizens of the country an outlet other than extremism and violence.

    They said that “continuing the reform process on all fronts and expanding the popular participation reinforces national unity” in the country.

    The education system in Saudi Arabia has been criticised for not properly preparing students for the job market.

    Education should be developed “in a way that keeps up with the modern age,” their petition said.

    Advisor to Saudi Crown Prince
    Abdullah, Adel Al Jubeir

    Demands for reform, particularly of Saudi Arabia's schools and religious institutions, have increased after last month's bombings in Riyadh and the police raids on suspected al-Qaeda members in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

    It also said that Muslim clerics should “rectify deviations” in Islam and support national unity. They asked for a clarification on the meaning of jihad (holy struggle) and said the declaration of jihad should only be made with those with the authority to do so.

    Earlier in May, Saudi Arabia arrested three prominent clerics who issued edicts inciting attacks and supporting suspected dissidents wanted by authorities.

    The petition also made a qualified call for freedom of expression and said efforts should be made to address problems faced by women in Saudi Arabia, which it blamed on "traditions and practices which contradict Islamic Sharia law".

    Women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive and have limited job opportunities.

    The four-day conference, which took place earlier this week in Riyadh, brought together representatives of Saudi Arabia's Sunni Muslim Wahhabi majority and Shiite minority, as well as
    some liberals and technocrats.


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