Group seeks minimum wage, womens' rights; social media sparked revolts in Egypt and Tunisia
Hundreds of people have backed a Facebook campaign calling for a 'Day of Rage' across Saudi Arabia next month to demand an elected ruler, greater freedom for women and release of political prisoners.
The page called for a "revolution of yearning" on March 11 in the kingdom, the world's biggest oil exporter and which is ruled by an absolute monarchy.
More than 460 people had endorsed the page by Wednesday morning, but it was impossible to verify how many of them were inside Saudi Arabia or whether any protest would materialise.
Arab uprisings which overthrew leaders in Tunisia and Egypt were mobilised by youths using social media, but activists in Saudi Arabia say a recent Internet call for a demonstration in Riyadh failed to bring anyone onto the streets.
A protest last month in Jeddah after floods swept through Saudi Arabia's second-biggest city was quickly broken up.
The demands included "that the ruler and members of the Shura [Consultative] Council be elected by the people" as well as calls for an independent judiciary, release of political prisoners and the right of freedom of expression and assembly.
They also sought a minimum wage of SR10,000 ($2,700), greater employment opportunities, establishing a watchdog to eliminate corruption and cancellation of "unjustified taxes and fees".
Other requests included rebuilding the armed forces, reforming Saudi Arabia's powerful and conservative Sunni Muslim clerics, and "the abolition of all illegal restrictions on women" in the kingdom.
Despite its oil wealth, Saudi Arabia is grappling with unemployment that hit 10.5 percent in 2009. It offers its 18 million nationals social benefits but they are considered less generous than those provided by other Gulf Arab oil producers.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah returned to the world's top oil exporter on Wednesday after spending three months abroad for medical treatment, state television said.
Hundreds of men in white robes performed a traditional Bedouin sword dance on special carpets laid out at Riyadh airport as they prepared to greet the monarch, thought to be 87.
Television presenters wore special scarves in the colours of the Saudi flag in special coverage termed "the joy of a nation" to mark the king's return.
The King on Wednesday granted benefits to Saudis worth billions of riyals.
The measures did not include political reforms in the absolute monarchy such as fresh municipal elections demanded by liberals or opposition groups. The kingdom has no elected parliament and does not tolerate public dissent.
They should defuse the situation by calling general elections and therefore taking away any reason for protest. Libya is doing it all wrong and will destroy the Country. Saudi should take different course and avoid confrontation.
Rules regulations and political system of a country has been form ed from the culture and practice of the region... what the kingdom follows now is apt for the growth of this nation.. kingdom is providing all the facilities to saudis.but they are not utilizing that properly...the freedom of any other political system, for example democracy , its nice to hear and read, but reality is not so . every system has its own
We live in fortunate times under the wise and genuinely loved rule of King Abdallah. Saudis appreciate and love the king. The only time we were allowed to vote was for municipal councils. The results provided a reality check and wake up call of things to come if 'democracy' was 'allowed'. The truth of the matter is that democracy is a responsibility that we are not ready for. With better education and a more open and tolerant society can everyones voice be heard. It is then that we can talk about 'democracy' and 'reform'. The ruling family, specially with King Abdallah at the helm, is the cohesive bond that holds Saudi Arabia together. Otherwise we will revert back to the emirates and kingdoms of the Hijaz and Najd etc. One mans medicine is another mans poison. God Bless King Abdallah and God protect us from the alternative scenarios.