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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 21:53 GMT
Saudis unveil surprise reform plans
President Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah
The US has urged reform in the Arab world

Saudi Arabia says it has launched an initiative calling for major reforms in the Arab world.

The Saudi press has published details of the proposals, which advocate internal reform and developing political participation in Arab countries.

Woman in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has been accused of repressing human rights
The initiative also calls for a common Arab undertaking to reject what is described as any illegal aggression against an Arab country.

The Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, says the proposals are now in the hands of Arab leaders.

He is hoping they will formally adopt his initiative at the next Arab summit in March.

Surprise move

The call for Arab political reform from Saudi Arabia will come as a surprise to many.

The kingdom has one of the most conservative systems in the world.

All political decisions are made by the ruler, aided by an appointed advisory council.

But the Saudi initiative appears to be a response to intense American pressure on governments in the region.

The US has recently launched its own drive to encourage democracy in the Arab world.

Bad press

Since the 11 September attacks, Arab systems of government have been under an unflattering spotlight in America.

World Trade Center attacked
Most of the 11 September hijackers were Saudi nationals

As the country which produced most of the alleged attackers, Saudi Arabia has been the target of sustained hostile comment in the US.

By insisting on self-motivated reform, the Saudi proposals are an attempt to seize back the initiative from Washington.

They also address an Arab public wounded by the humiliation of the Palestinians and the prospect of an American war against Iraq.

The kingdom says it wants Arab leaders to pledge to build up Arab defences, support the Palestinians and reject foreign aggression.

See also:

14 Dec 02 | Americas
13 Dec 02 | Americas
07 Dec 02 | Middle East
09 Nov 02 | Middle East
28 Nov 02 | Middle East
02 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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