Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz,
Our precious country is experiencing a relative openness in different fields, and we can feel the tireless efforts of reform in religious, social, and economic areas and organizations, all of which seek to meet the demands of the people. However, we find that the reforms are still far from achieving what we hope for, and what this diverse nation- especially young people- needs and aspires to.
Us young Saudi men and women have our own aspirations for the future of this country in terms of development and prosperity in the fields of scientific and cultural development, as well as in the political, social and economic spheres. We long for a free and dignified life at a time when modern means of communication have enabled us to become informed about the lives of people from all over the world. Indeed, we have been following the milestones that these societies have achieved in terms of development and civilizational accomplishments.
Based on a simple comparison between these countries and ours, we can say that our economic and human resources drastically exceed theirs. Yet, we don’t even experience half of what they do in terms of justice, freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, and scientific, practical, and cultural progress. We therefore can no longer ignore all these modern developments, and find that we already engage them practically, intellectually, and existentially. When we look at our reality, we see the clear contradictions between what they have achieved and our reality and what little freedom we enjoy… which begs the question: Why? With this question, our sense of responsibility for the importance of change only increases.
We are young men and women from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As other young Arabs are bringing about the grand political and cultural change that the Arab world is witnessing today, we find that we share with them their visions and aspirations for a more dignified life. However, we first affirm our patriotism, support of our leaders, and commitment to the tolerant principles of Islamic Shari’a. Second, we declare our aspirations and willingness to work toward achieving our reform goals.
We refuse to continue to be a wasted resource surrounded by neglect, unemployment, financial and administrative corruption, forgery and silence. We also refuse to be forced away from our roles in contributing to the development of society, and to be sidelined into passive receivers of ready-made, magical solutions that we neither participate in or execute.
We therefore announce our following demands:
1- We demand an immediate end to the problem of unemployment by providing well-paid job opportunities to young men and women in all specializations. Jobs must also provide health insurance and housing to all citizens, giving them a dignified life in which their basic needs are met, which opens the door to competition, development, and growth.
2- We demand an end to the pervasive problem of poverty which wide sectors of society are suffering from, in our nation that is considered one of the richest oil-exporting countries in the world. Poverty has affected people’s education, health, and quality of life, which in turn disqualify them from good and rewarding employment opportunities.
3- We demand that the government take all necessary financial measures to subsidize and lower the prices of basic necessities, construction materials, rent, and land prices for all citizens. The government must strive to support citizens by providing gas, water, and electricity, and lowering the price of communication and transportation.
4- We demand that the government fight all forms of financial and administrative corruption, and prosecute all those involved in corruption cases, the theft of public money, human rights violations, or abuse of power. We also demand the implementation of the principles of monitoring, transparency, and accountability in dealing with public money, and of fair distribution of wealth among all citizens. We want a monitoring body that oversees and enforces strict rules on the activities of economic and investments organizations so the rights of citizens are guaranteed and protected.
5- We demand the criminalization of all forms of nepotism, bias and regional, tribal, and sectarian discrimination against citizens in the distribution of wealth. Here we demand that regional princes stop all their profit-motivated businesses and their competing with locals for land and wealt. This applies to those in ministerial positions and the managers of government institutions directly responsible for citizens’ daily activities.
6- We demand an end to all forms of discrimination against women and giving women all their political, economic, social, and cultural rights. These include their right to represent themselves without their guardian; choose their educational specialization; work in all administrative, health, educational, and commercial institutions, whether public or private; and partake in public life without any restrictions.
7- We demand the application of the notion of citizenship by putting an end to all forms of racial and sectarian discrimination in the Kingdom; not treating those who belong to the latter categories as second class citizens; providing them with equal employment opportunities; and allowing them to practice their religious rituals.
8- We demand a restructuring of the educational development plan for all grades, in form and content, by improving educational facilities such as transportation, schools, teaching tools; training teachers and preparing them for teaching and educating in all its proper understandings and methodologies; formulating modern educational curricula in all fields of knowledge in a way that prepares students for the labor market; formulating theoretical approaches in a way that affirms values of tolerance and brotherhood; recognizing the right to diversity within society; and dealing with “the other” in an open, discursive and civilized manner.
9- We demand the improvement of the quality of education in all the Kingdom’s universities; Opening more free public universities; increasing the student quota whereby each student can receive a university education without discrimination; ending arbitrary acceptance requirements and ensuring they correspond to requirements of the labor market; implementing principles of academic freedom and impunity when conducting research; allowing the freedom of academic critique that is not censored; and establishing the role of universities in social and volunteer work.
10- We demand the criminalization of all forms of domestic, social, religious, and sectarian violence, and instead, allowing for an atmosphere of tolerance and fighting intellectual stagnancy, and encouraging ijtihad, since Islamic Shari’a is broad enough to deal with the reality in ways that accomplish its noble goals.
11- We demand an end to the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice’s religious guardianship over society and replacing it with academic programs that breed principles of humanness through schools and universities. This will develop a sense of responsibility and self-censorship among citizens, which the Committee has failed to do for decades and on the contrary, has created an atmosphere of violence, anger, fear, doubting society’s morality, religion, and credibility in dealing with oneself and with others.
12- We demand the inclusion of cultural activities in citizens’ lives, which requires an atmosphere of freedom and democracy in running public libraries, literary and sports clubs, and cultural and art societies; and eliminating all restrictions on these societies and relying on their role in reviving Saudi society.
13- We demand activating the role of the arts in developing cultural life for society (acting, directing, music, cinema, etc…) by allowing the establishment of institutes that teach these majors and opening up cinemas and theaters that the public can access freely.
14- We demand the inclusion of young men and women in all institutions involved in economic and cultural development, for purposes of dialogue, the exchange of ideas and planning for the future, so that their voices and aspirations may be heard and incorporated.
We believe that our demands can only be achieved in a democratic atmosphere that informs and organizes the work of the state apparatus and its ministries and institutions, which allows for competition and enables people to be critical and to freely and publicly choose whoever achieves their interests. We believe that this will only be achieved by an immediate implementation of the following procedures:
a) Developing the “system of governance” into a constitutional monarchy that strengthens the rule of law and institutions and guarantees: the separation of the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers; the freedom of opinion and expression; the right to protest and demonstrate; the freedom to form civil society institutions, which includes the freedom to form parties and societies; the right of the people to partake in political decision-making through electing their own male and female representatives in the Shura Council; and commitment to the enforcement of all international human rights covenants and agreements.
b) Releasing all prisoners of conscience, and lifting all travel restrictions on them as well as providing them with moral and financial support, regardless of whether in their peaceful expressions they had represented themselves, a religious sect, or a social or intellectual segment of society.
We are inclined to declare this statement because of our sense of responsibility to our nation and our feeling of national belonging and due to our concerns for the future of the coming generations, and the current widespread problems we are experiencing in light of the failure of government institutions and ministries to adapt to the changes in Saudi society and its needs and aspirations. We assure you that we are ready for reform and equipped for democracy.
[This letter was issued by a number of young Saudi men and women on Saturday night March 5th, 2011. Translation provided by Khuloud. For the original Arabic statement, see here.]