السبت، 12 مارس، 2011

A Call from Saudi Intellectuals to the Political Leadership

Declaration of National Reform

It is no secret that the revolutions in Tunisia and
Egypt have led to crises and political agitations in
many Arab countries- at the heart of which is our
country. This has imposed new conditions on us to
reevaluate our current state of affairs, and do our
best to reform them before they worsen and we find
ourselves facing consequences we can neither prevent
nor predict.

A group of Saudi intellectuals had previously submitted
specific proposals in a document titled "Vision for the
Present and Future of the Nation" to the Custodian of
the Two Holy Mosques in January 2003, which he welcomed
and promised to look into. Soon afterwards, several
senior officials announced that the government was
determined to adopt comprehensive reform policies
within the government apparatus as well as its
relationship with Saudi society.

And now, a decade later, very little of the promised
reforms have been implemented. We believe that the
problems indicated in the "Vision document" and
subsequent demands for reforms have been exacerbated by
the delays in political reform.

The current situation is full of risks and reasons for
concern. We are witnessing with the rest of the Saudi
population the receding of Saudi Arabia's prominent
regional role; the deterioration of the government
apparatus and administrative competence; the prevalence
of corruption and nepotism; the exacerbation of
factionalism; and the widening gap between state and
society, particularly among the new generation of youth
in the country. This threatens to lead to catastrophic
results for the country and the people, which we will
never accept for our nation and its children.

Resolving these conditions requires a serious review
and an immediate announcement that both government and
society will together adopt a comprehensive reform
project that focuses on structural shortcomings in our
political system, and that leads our country towards a
constitutional monarchy.

The people's consent is the basis for the legitimacy of
authority, and the only guarantee for unity, stability,
and the efficiency of public administration, as well as
the protection of the country from foreign
intervention. This requires a reformulation of the
state-society relationship, whereby the people will be
a source of authority, and a full partner in deciding
public policies through their elected representatives
in the Shura (Consultative) Council, and whereby the
purpose of the state is to serve society, secure its
interests, improve its standard of living, and ensure
the dignity of its members, their pride, and the future
of their children.

We therefore look forward to a royal declaration that
clearly demonstrates the state's commitment to becoming
a "Constitutional Monarchy," and that puts in place a
timeline that delineates the beginning, implementation,
and finalizing of the desires reforms. The royal
declaration should also confirm the adoption of the
major reform goals, namely: the rule of law, full
equality between members of the population, the legal
guarantee of individual and civil freedoms, popular
participation in decision-making, even development, the
eradication of poverty, and the optimal use of public
resources.

In this vein, the reform program should include:

First: Developing the Basic Law into a comprehensive
constitution that serves as a social contract between
the people and the state. It should state that the
people are the source of authority and guarantee the
separation of the three powers: executive, judicial
and legislative, while limiting their authorities, and
linking their powers to responsibility and
accountability. The constitution should also guarantee
justice and equality among all citizens, legally
protect individual and civil liberties, and ensure
equal opportunities, as well as confirm the state's
responsibility to guarantee human rights and the right
to freedom of expression and to strengthen public
liberties, including the right to form political and
professional associations.

Second: Confirming the principle of the rule of law,
and that it applies to everyone- government officials
and citizens- equally and without discrimination, and
the prohibition of improper or illegal use of public
resources.

Third: Adopting universal suffrage for the formation of
municipal, provincial, and Shura councils, and allowing
women to participate in nomination and election.

Fourth: Adoption of the principle of administrative
decentralization, granting local administrations in the
regions and provinces all necessary powers to establish
efficient local rule that is in line with the demands
of citizens in each region.

Fifth: Applying the principle of the independence of
the judicial authority, by ending the role of all
bodies that carry similar roles outside the judicial
framework. Courts must preside over investigations with
defendants; prison conditions; and public prosecution.
All rules and organizations that limit the independence
and efficiency of the judiciary or the immunity of the
judges must be cancelled. There should also be an
accelerated process for recording verdicts and
centralizing it, as well as rationing judicial
sentences, and including all international human rights
charters and conventions signed by our government
within the jurisdiction of the judiciary.

All of the above safeguards justice, equality, and
discipline in the application of the provisions.
Further, the Law of Criminal Procedure and the system
of pleas must also be activated to accomplish these
safeguards and prevent any procedure or conduct outside
their framework.

Sixth: Accelerating the issuance of the system of civil
associations passed by the Shura Council, and opening
the door for the establishment of civil society
institutions in all its forms and purposed, as a
channel to framing public opinion and activating
popular participation in decision-making.

Seventh: Despite the growing debate on women's rights
in Saudi Arabia, the government has not taken
sufficient measurements to fulfill the demands of this
disconcerting issue. Neglecting or postponing women's
rights exacerbates the problems of poverty and
violence, and weakens family contribution to raising
the quality of education. We demand taking the proper
legal and institutional measures that will empower
women to attain their rights to education, owning
property, employment, and participation in public
affairs without any discrimination.

Eighth: Issuing legislation that forbids discrimination
among citizens under any circumstances, and
criminalizes practices of sectarian, tribal, regional,
or racist discrimination, as well as inciting hatred on
religious or other grounds. We also demand the
implementation of a national integration strategy that
speaks to and respects multiculturalism and diversity
in Saudi society and considers them a source of
enrichment for national unity and social peace. We are
in need of an effective national integration strategy
that addresses the marginalization of and
discrimination against particular groups within society
and that compensates them for past grievances.

Ninth: The decision of the Custodian of the Two Holy
Mosques to establish the Human Rights Commission and
the National Society for Human Rights was a welcome
step in the right direction. But we now find that both
the HRC and the NSHR have become a pseudo-bureaucratic
body with a limited role in defending the rights of
some citizens, while ignoring most. Some of the reasons
that have led to this failure are the interference of
the government in appointing the members of the HRC and
NSHR, as well as the refusal of many government
agencies to deal with either.

Therefore, the protection and safeguarding of the
rights of citizens and residents from cruelty and
humiliation should be the top priority for any
government and society. For this reason, we demand the
elimination of all government restrictions imposed on
the HRC and the NSHR and the safeguarding of their
independence under the law. We also demand the right to
form other civil associations for the defense of human
rights.

Tenth: There is no dignity without a decent living. God
has bestowed great riches upon our country, but a large
portion of our citizens suffer from poverty and
neediness. We have witnessed the government's delay in
treating the problems of unemployment and housing, or
improving people's living standards, particularly in
rural areas and suburbs and among the retired and the
elderly. We do not see any justification for the
failure to implement solutions to these problems. We
believe that neglecting to put these issues up for
public debate, ignoring the role that the private
sector and civil society can play, and tackling these
problems from a purely commercial point of view, has
turned them from problems to dilemmas that have led to
the humiliation of citizens.

Eleventh: The last few years exposed an increasing
tendency towards tampering with public money and its
mismanagement. This requires that the elected Shura
Council use its authorities to monitor and hold all
government agencies accountable. The Shura Council can
establish independent administrative structures and
bodies capable of accomplishing their monitoring
duties, and announce their conclusions to the people,
especially when it comes to administrative corruption,
abuse of power, and government agencies' tampering with
public money. Here we stress the importance of the
principles of transparency and accountability, and of
establishing an institutional framework that safeguards
these two principles by: a) establishing a National
Commission for Integrity that enjoys full independence
and immunity and that will announce its findings to the
public; and b) Giving citizens access to public
financial records by government agencies, and ending
all restrictions that forbid the press from revealing
corrupt practices.

Twelfth: Oil revenues in the last five years have
reached record numbers, providing the government with
enormous financial resources that should have been used
for the public good in efficient ways instead of
squandering them in extremely expensive yet ineffective
projects. For this reason, we demand a review of the
foundations on which the "five year plans" are
developed and to instead adopt a long-term strategy for
comprehensive development that focuses on expanding the
base of national production, diversifying the economy,
providing employment opportunities, and increasing the
private sector's participation in economic
policy-making.

In conclusion, we reaffirm our call to our political
leadership to adopt the proposed reform program. In
order for everyone to trust the serious intentions and
determination for reform, four steps must be taken
immediately:

1- The issuance of a royal declaration that confirms
the government's determination to undertake a program
of political reform, and to develop a specific
timetable for its implementation.

2- The immediate release of political prisoners, and
prompt referral to trial of all those who have
committed crimes, while providing the necessary
judicial guarantees to all each of the accused.

3- The elimination of travel bans imposed on a large
number of those who have expressed they political
opinions.

4- Lifting all restrictions imposed on the freedom of
the press and of expression, allowing citizens to
express their opinions publicly in a peaceful manner.
And stopping the prosecutions suffered by those who
express their opinions in a peaceful manner.

We thus address this letter to our political leadership
and the citizens of our country, for we reaffirm the
solidarity of the people and the government in facing
upcoming dangers and avoiding any unexpected surprises.
We are also confident that everyone has learned their
lessons from the developments in neighboring Arab
countries.

Facing the challenges can only be achieved through
serious, comprehensive, and immediate reform that
embodies popular participation in decision-making,
solidifies national cohesion, and accomplishes
citizens' hopes in a glorious and worthy homeland.

[For the names of the signatories and other details,
please see the group's website at
http://www.saudireform.com (in Arabic).]