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Saudi dissidents form pro-democracy political group

DUBAI: A group of Saudi dissidents, most of them in exile, on Wednesday announced the formation of a party to push for political reform in Saudi Arabia in defiance of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has moved to crush any dissent.

The world’s top oil exporter is an absolute monarchy without an elected parliament or political parties. Past attempts to organise politically in the Gulf state in 2007 and 2011 were suppressed and members arrested.

The National Assembly Party (NAAS) declaration called for an elected parliament and constitutional safeguards to ensure separation of the legislative, judicial and executive branches.

“The scope for politics has become blocked in all directions,” it said, calling for peaceful change to combat state “violence and repression.”

King Salman, who had surgery in July, has delegated most responsibilities to his 34-year-old son and heir, who became crown prince in a 2017 palace coup and consolidated power.

“The timing is very important … the climate of repression is only increasing,” party member and academic Madawi al-Rasheed told Reuters. She said NAAS would work with international organisations like the United Nations and human rights groups, without agitating for protests in the kingdom.

Saudi experts say while Prince Mohammed has fuelled resentment among some royals, he has the support of others and of the security apparatus and is popular among Saudi youth.

Party members include Yahya Assiri, head of UK-based Saudi rights group ALQST, Abdullah al-Awdah, son of jailed preacher Salman al-Awdah, prominent scholar Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi and activist Ahmed al-Mshikhs. Abdullah al-Awdah told Reuters NAAS aimed to create a national movement by working with “everybody from inside and outside the royal family”.

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