SAUDI ARABIA: Activists call for reforms; King Abdullah makes concessions
More than 100 Saudi intellectuals and activists on Sunday called on King Abdullah to set up a constitutional monarchy and enact sweeping reforms, putting pressure on the government of the world's largest oil producer as revolts simmer across the Arab world.
The call for reforms appeared on Saudi websites and was signed by businessmen, activists and academics.
"We are seeing … a receding of Saudi Arabia's prominent regional role for which our nation was known and the …. prevalence of corruption and nepotism, the exacerbation of factionalism and a widening in the gap between state and society," the statement read, according to the Associated Press.
The Saudi king on Sunday granted permanent work status to many temporary workers, which will give them benefits such as state pensions and could affect as many as 50,000 workers. That follows a package he released last week that included a 15% pay raise for state employees and boosts in social benefits, worth an estimated $36 billion.
King Abdullah has pressed for some reforms in the past, including setting up a coed university and trying to diversify the country's economy from oil production.
The king returned Wednesday to the country after a three-month absence for medical treatment in the United States. He reportedly spoke to President Obama during this time, warning him not to "humiliate" Egypt's leader, Hosni Mubarak, according to details of a phone call leaked to the Times of London.
Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer and the de facto leader of OPEC. On Friday, when markets were turbulent as oil prices rose, the Saudi government stepped in and pledged to bolster supply.
-- Alana Semuels
Photo: Saudi King Abdullah. Credit: Hassan Ammar / AFP/Getty Images