Saudi minister says dialogue needed, not protest

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:53 PM
Saudi minister says dialogue needed, not protest

RIYADH (Reuters) - Dialogue, not protest, is the best way to bring about change in Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Wednesday, adding that Riyadh rejected any foreign interference in its domestic affairs.

Inspired by protests sweeping other Arab countries, Shi'ite demonstrators have taken to the streets in eastern Saudi Arabia in recent days in small numbers, with calls for further rallies Friday.

Faisal, who is the nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, said demonstrations would not bring reform in the world's largest oil exporter, adding that Muslim clerics had banned protests there. "The best way to achieve what citizens want is through dialogue whether in the eastern region, or the western, southern and northern regions," the minister told a news conference.

Saudi Arabia's huge oil wealth has provided a high standard of living compared to many neighbors, and it is widely thought to be immune from spreading unrest, but the recent rumblings of discontent from the Shi'ite minority have alarmed Riyadh.

"The called-for reform does not come via protests and (the clerics) have forbidden protests since they violate the Koran and the way of the Prophet," Faisal said.

Protests by a disgruntled Shi'ite majority in neighboring Bahrain are being closely watched in Saudi Arabia, where Shi'ites make up about 15 percent of the population.

Faisal warned foreigners to stay out of Saudi's internal affairs: "Change will come through the citizens of this kingdom and not through foreign fingers, we don't need them," he said, adding: "We will cut any finger that crosses into the kingdom."

(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush in Dubai; Writing by Crispian Balmer)