[The following translation from Arabic is provided by Khuloud]
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 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, along 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 halting the prosecutions of 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]