By Avril Ormsby
LONDON, June 29 (Reuters) - A Saudi Arabian princess said no Arab country is immune from change and that countries should grant freedoms before being forced to.
"No one is immune from the seasonal geographical winds of change that are sweeping our Arab homeland. Those who say we are immune are wrong," Princess Basma bint Saud, a niece of King Abdullah and a social activist and prominent supporter of women's issues in Saudi Arabia, told BBC Arabic late on Tuesday. Her comments were later translated into English.
Princess Basma also said the work of the country's moral police had changed from its original remit of preventing corruption to inflicting social pressure, particularly against women, creating a society that lived in fear.
"Everyone is prone and everyone should heed and must be aware that we must open national dialogue on the table and not wait for the challenges to grow. Let us grant freedom before it turns into challenge."
Democratic movements have resulted in regime change in Tunisia and Egypt, and uprisings in Libya, Yemen and Syria, popularly known as the Arab spring.
Saudi Arabia is ruled by an absolute monarchy which applies an austere version of Sunni Islam. Religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.
The princess suggested the initial intention for the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice had become distorted and she has denounced it for hounding women.
"When my late father, may God bless his soul, founded it, it was for this goal; to monitor civil society in as much as to enable citizens to live an honourable existence, in dignity and without corruption or bribes," she said.
"This has changed somewhat to a social pressure with the Saudi woman as its primary target.
"They became distracted by her face, her gloves and mixing with other races.
"They were absorbed in issues that led to dire consequences we witness today in our society, to the extent that we have now become society which lives in fear."
There have been some signs of rebellion in Saudi Arabia. Some women appeared to have protested against a ban on driving earlier this month, posting accounts and pictures of themselves behind the wheel.
Besides a ban on driving, women in Saudi Arabia must have written approval from a male guardian -- a father, husband, brother or son -- to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations. (Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Louise Ireland)