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Regional awakenings reach Saudi shores

saudia awakingNew calls for nationwide protests in Saudi Arabia indicate the wave of revolutions in the Arab world has not left the kingdom unaffected. Following the early 2011 revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the Saudi opposition groups have sporadically called for anti-regime rallies in the country.

    But now a number of human rights activists and organizations have called for mass demonstrations on Friday, March 15, in several major cities to protest against the Al Saud ruling family.

The activists are demanding that an elected parliament replace the so-called Shura Council, an advisory body whose 150 members are all selected by the king.

The opposition groups are calling for greater powers for the body so that it could make vast reforms in the monarchy. They also want the head of the government to be jointly named by the parliament and the king.

Saudi activists are also demanding major reforms in the judiciary and the release of all political prisoners, a call echoed by international human rights organizations including the Human Rights Watch.

There have been numerous demonstrations in Saudi Arabia – mostly in the oil-rich Eastern Province – since February 2011, with protestors calling for political reforms.

Anti-government protests have intensified since November 2011, when security forces opened fire on protesters in the eastern city of Qatif, killing five people and leaving scores more injured.

In October 2012, Amnesty International called on Saudi authorities to “end their repeated moves to stifle people’s attempts to protest against the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the country,” and to respect the right of people to peaceful protest.

In the latest development, Saudi regime forces arrested the wives and children of political prisoners after their relatives held protests in the capital, Riyadh, and Buraydah in al-Qassim Province.

Activists say there are over 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.

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