Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said today that dialogue — not protests — is the way to bring reform and warned that the oil-rich nation will take strong action if activists take to the streets.
Inspired by a wave of uprisings in the Arab world, activists from Saudi Arabia's Shiite Muslim minority have called for a "Day of Rage" on Friday to demand the regime's removal. The government accuses Shiites from outside the country of spurring the protests.
"The kingdom does not interfere in the affairs of others and will not allow for anyone to interfere in its own affairs," Prince Saud al-Faisal said today at a press conference in Saudi Arabia's port of Jiddah. Using a figure of speech, he said his regime would "cut off any finger" raised against the regime.
"Reform cannot be achieved through protests ... The best way to achieve demands is through national dialogue," he said.
While Saudi Arabia has been mostly spared the upheaval in the rest of the Middle East, a robust protest movement has risen up in its tiny neighbour, Bahrain, led by that country's Shiite Muslim majority.
The pro-Western Saudi monarchy is concerned Shiite protests in the kingdom could open footholds for Shiite powerhouse Iran.
The Interior Ministry on Monday reiterated that demonstrations are banned in the kingdom on grounds that they contradict Islamic laws and values and said in a statement that its security forces will act against anyone taking part in them.
The warning came after about 100 Shiites staged a protest in an eastern region of the kingdom, and was the latest attempt by Saudi Arabia to get ahead of the unrest that has swept the Arab world in recent months. Last week, the government announced an unprecedented economic package worth an estimated $36 billion that will give Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and debt forgiveness.
On February 24, a group of influential intellectuals urged King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's 86-year-old monarch, to adopt far-reaching political and social reforms. They said Arab rulers should learn from the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and listen to the voice of disenchanted young people. The group includes renowned Islamic scholars, a female academic, a poet and a former diplomat.
A Facebook page calling for a "Saudi Revolution 11 March" in Saudi Arabia has attracted close to 9,000 fans. Messages posted on the page calls for protests on March 11 and 20 and urges people to gather in mosques across the country including Mecca and Riyadh. The page calls for the regime's ouster and lists demands including the election of a ruler and members of the advisory assembly known as the Shura Council.
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