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Sun 27 Feb 2011 11:38 PM

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Saudi activists, academics call for greater political openness

Saudi is spending more on social and housing programs as popular turmoil roils the Arab world

Saudi activists, academics call for greater political openness
King Abdullah made temporary state employees permanent and ordered government organizations to advertise jobs (Getty Images)

Saudi Arabian activists and academics called on King Abdullah to improve
political rights and move the country towards a constitutional monarchy amid
popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

More than 100 activists,
writers and academics warned the Saudi monarch of “the prevalence of corruption
and nepotism” and about the “widening gap between state and society,” according
to an e-mailed copy of the statement. The conditions in the country “require a
serious review,” it said.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s
largest oil supplier, is spending more on social and housing programs as
popular turmoil roils the Arab world. King Abdullah made temporary state
employees permanent and ordered government organizations to advertise jobs, the
official State TV reported today.

Saudi Arabia, a G-20
member, is an absolute monarchy that has been ruled by six kings since it was
established in 1932. Political groups and public demonstrations are banned.

“The Saudi government
should look very seriously to this statement,” Ibrahim AlMugaiteeb, president
of the al Khobar, Saudi Arabia-based Human Rights First Society and signatory
to the statement, said in a telephone interview. “The real strength of the
Saudi government should come from its own people.”

When King Abdullah
returned to Riyadh on Feb 23, after three months abroad for medical treatment,
he raised spending on housing by 40 billion riyals ($10.7bn), according to a
statement read on state-run television. He also raised the social security
budget by 1 billion riyals and ordered the creation of 1,200 jobs in
supervision programs.

The 86-year-old monarch,
who has ruled since 2005, traveled to the US in November for treatment of a
back injury and went to Morocco on Jan 22 for physical therapy and to
recuperate, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

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