Earlier attempts at political organization in the Gulf state in 2007 and 2011 were quelled and members arrested.
“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 Wednesday.
This development is unlikely to seriously undermine the authority of the most powerful ruling family in the Arab world. But it poses a new challenge for Saudi leaders as they grapple with low crude oil prices and prepare to host a G20 summit in November amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The party is led by prominent London-based human rights activist Yahya Assiri, and its members include academic Madawi al-Rasheed, researcher Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, United States Abdullah Alaoudh and the Canada Omar Abdulaziz, sources close to the group. told AFP news agency.
“We are announcing the launch of this party at a critical time to try to save our country … to establish a democratic future and to meet the aspirations of our people,” Assiri, secretary general of the party, told AFP.
Assiri, a former Royal Saudi Air Force officer, founded the London-based human rights organization ALQST, which has documented what it calls widespread state abuse, including arrests of activists, academics and members of the royal family.
The announcement comes at a time when “the reach of politics has become blocked in all directions,” according to the party statement.
“The government constantly practices violence and repression, with an increasing number of political arrests and assassinations, increasingly aggressive policies against regional states, enforced disappearances and people forced to flee the country,” he said. he added.
Rasheed, the party’s spokeswoman, stressed that its founders had “no personal animosity with the ruling family”.
But the lack of an independent judiciary, the government’s tight control over local media and the “muzzling of public opinion” were other factors that led to the group’s formation, the party statement said.
Saudi Arabia has long been the subject of international criticism for its human rights record. This has intensified since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was named heir to the Saudi throne in June 2017.
In particular, the October 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked an unprecedented international review of the kingdom’s human rights record.