• Friday, Oct 30, 2020
  • Last Update : 01:37 pm

Saudi dissidents launch opposition party amid repression

  • Published at 04:54 pm September 24th, 2020
Saudi Arabia flag
File photo: Saudi national flag is seen, in the capital Riyadh on September 23, 2020 AFP

The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked unprecedented international scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record

A group of Saudi dissidents exiled in Britain, the US and elsewhere announced the launch of an opposition party on Wednesday, the first organized political resistance under King Salman's rule.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any political opposition, but the formation of the National Assembly Party on the anniversary of the kingdom's founding comes amid a growing state crackdown on dissent and freedom of expression.

"We hereby announce the establishment of the National Assembly Party, which aims to institute democracy as a form of government in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the group said in a statement.

The development is unlikely to seriously undermine the authority of the Arab world's most powerful ruling family. 

But it poses a fresh challenge to Saudi Arabia's rulers as they grapple with low crude oil prices and gear up to host a G20 summit in November amid the coronavirus pandemic.

There was no immediate reaction from Saudi authorities.

The party is led by prominent London-based human rights defender Yahya Assiri. 

Its members include Britain-based academic Madawi al-Rasheed, researcher Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, activist Ahmed al-Mshikhs, US-based Abdullah Alaoudh and Canada-based Omar Abdulaziz, sources close to the outfit told AFP.

"We are announcing the launch of this party at a critical moment to try to save our country... to institute a democratic future and to respond to our people's aspirations," Assiri, the party's general secretary, told AFP.

Assiri, a former Royal Saudi Air Force officer, founded the London-based human rights organization ALQST, which has catalogued what it calls widespread state abuses including arrests of women activists, academics and royal family members.

The announcement comes at a time when "the scope for politics has become blocked in all directions", the party statement said.

"The government constantly practices violence and repression, with mounting numbers of political arrests and assassinations, increasingly aggressive policies against regional states, enforced disappearances and people being driven to flee the country," it added.

'Muzzling of opinion' 

The announcement coincided with National Day celebrations, which saw military jets perform dazzling aerobatic manoeuvers over Riyadh as flag-waving enthusiasts marched on a thoroughfare.

Mosque preachers across Saudi Arabia were directed to deliver public sermons on the importance of uniting behind the kingdom's "wise leadership", according to the Islamic affairs ministry.

Rasheed, the party's spokeswoman, stressed that its founders had "no personal animosity with the ruling family."

But the absence of an independent judiciary, the government's tight control of the local media and "muzzling of public opinion" were other factors that led to the group's formation, the party statement said.

Saudi Arabia has long faced international criticism over its human rights record.

That has intensified since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was named heir to the Saudi throne in June 2017.

In particular, the grizly October 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked unprecedented international scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record.

The global fallout over the murder tarnished the crown prince's carefully cultivated reputation as a reformer, casting a shadow over his ambitious attempts to modernize the conservative kingdom's economy and society.

In a radical makeover of the kingdom, the 35-year-old Prince Mohammed clipped the powers of the once-feared clerical establishment, lifted the world's only ban on women drivers, reopened cinemas and allowed mixed-gender entertainment.

But the social reforms have been in lockstep with political repression, party members said.

The party's creation is a "very long overdue move", said Alaoudh, whose father Salman al-Awda, a religious cleric, faces the death penalty after he was arrested in September 2017.

The party seeks to protect the country from "upheaval and absolute dictatorship and pave the way for democracy in a peaceful transition," Alaoudh told AFP.

50
50
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail