Rights group annoys Saudis

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The Independent Online
THE SAUDI authorities have moved quickly to show their displeasure with the formation of a human rights committee.

Prince Salman ibn Abdel Aziz, governor of Riyadh and brother of King Fahd, on Saturday summoned the six founding members of the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights, which had announced its presence with faxes to news media last week. The six were ulema, or religious scholars, who belonged to the more openminded, modernising religious trend. They urged greater popular participation in government, including for women, who may not even drive in Saudi Arabia.

The appearance of the group is only the latest manifestation of dissatisfaction with the way the kingdom is run. The monarchy has always had to balance carefully between those modernisers who feel not enough liberalising steps are being taken, and the traditionalists who say that already too many concessions have been made.

For his part, King Fahd more than a year ago promised an opening of political life, and that within six months a 60-member consultative council would be established. The council has still not been formed.

Last July, a group of more than 100 prominent businessmen and scholars sent a lengthy communique known as an- Nasiha (Advice) to King Fahd in which the signatories blamed the government for administrative corruption.

This in turn provoked a furious counter-attack from the increasingly zealous religious establishment, which led at the end of last year to a shake-up in the Council of Senior Ulema.

Two of the members of the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights had also signed the Nasiha.

The committee appealed to Saudi citizens to report injustices to it, to 'eliminate injustice, support the oppressed and defend legitimate rights', and pledged to defend the rights of all citizens regardless of confessional identity, race or sex.

This was especially directed at the Shia minority, who have always felt discriminated against. Ironically, one of the six founders, Abdallah bin Abdurrahman al-Jabrin, has a reputation among the Shia community for regarding them as second- class Muslims, a charge that he refutes.