Saudi king needs to step up reforms to curb dissent
Reforms must be enacted to curb dissent – analysts; King's absence has delayed government plans; Succession could also affect course of reforms.
February 15, 2011 12:57 by Reuters
Elections for a parliament have yet to be announced.
Riyadh has been trying to reassure allies the government is working normally while Abdullah is recuperating in Morocco after undergoing surgery over a slipped spinal disk in New York.
“Several government projects have been held up. Reforms which require the authority of the king seem to be put on hold,” said a Saudi-based analyst who declined to be named. “I think Abdullah should come back as soon as possible.”
Analysts had expected Abdullah to reshuffle his cabinet to inject fresh blood, but the cabinet’s term expired more than a week ago and no new cabinet was announced, suggesting ministers — some in office for 30 years or longer — will stay for now.
Many Saudis are waiting for King Abdullah to approve a much-delayed mortgage bill to provide affordable housing. The bill requires the king’s authority as the housing shortage touches the sensitive issue that most land is owned by royals.
“A mortgage law is one area that would give hope to one million households who need assistance to get their own homes,” said Daniel Broby, Chief Investment Officer at British fund manager Silk Invest which is invested in the Saudi bourse.
Education is one of the areas where some reform has begun, but the system still struggles to produce the scientists, engineers, economists and lawyers the country needs.
Overshadowing any long-term reform plans is the unanswered question of succession in a country that has been ruled for nearly 60 years by a single generation of kings, all sons of the founder of the state, King Abdul-Aziz.
When Abdullah went abroad, Sultan who is only slightly younger returned to run the country in his absence. If both are incapacitated, another brother, Interior Minister Prince Nayef, is expected to take the throne. Nayef is viewed as a conservative and suspicious of reforms.
Eventually the throne must pass to a younger generation. The king has set up a family council to regulate succession but has not made clear how and when it will begin work. Meanwhile, younger Saudis are growing impatient for change.
“Nobody will call for (regime) change but there will be people calling for political reforms,” said prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“People have demands, people have frustrations.”
(By Ulf Laessing. Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif in Jeddah; Editing by Peter Graff)
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