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Saudi Arabia Moves Forward with Political Reforms


Saudi Arabia says it will continue carrying out political reforms, but will not import Western-style democracy.

Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister, Prince Nayef, said the kingdom would continue reforms as long as they do not conflict with the Islamic law, Sharia.

He told the Arabic language daily, Al-Hayat, that he also rejected charges that a lack of democracy was behind the recent Muslim militant terror acts in country.

"Violence in all its forms has occurred and continues to occur in Western countries which are democracies, so how can we explain terrorism as resulting from lack of democracy," he said.

The oil-rich kingdom, in which the royal family has absolute power and strict Islamic law applies, has come under pressure from the United-States to implement reforms.

Prince Nayef made clear that for the time being, reforms would be limited. "The meaning of reform," he said, "must be defined in accordance with our foundations and needs." In his view, "democracy is an attractive word, but it must not run counter to the teachings of Islamic sharia."

Critics of the kingdom have suggested the country's strict interpretation of Islam, which allows virtually no opposition, helps feed Muslim militancy there.

Hala Mustapha, an expert in Muslim militancy at Egypt's Diplomacy Institute, agrees.

"Part of it is political, and part is cultural and social, but in either way, I cannot deny the fact that lack of political vitality and participation of course contributes in aggravating the fanatic phenomenon or fanaticism in general," she said.

Ms. Mustapha and other observers have praised Saudi Arabia's recent decision to hold municipal elections sometime in an unspecified future, but say more needs to be done to address issues such as growing poverty, unemployment, and lack of free speech.

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