RIYADH (AFP) - Saudi billionaire prince Alwaleed bin Talal has called for parliamentary elections in the absolute monarchy where the king names members of a toothless Shura consultative council.
Prince Alwaleed, the richest Arab businessman and a nephew of King Abdullah, said in a television interview aired late on Tuesday the monarch's January decision to appoint 30 women to the council was "very important" but needed to go further.
"For this to become historic, I think two things are essential: first, elections, even if partial, and, more importantly, (giving) powers," he said in the interview aired on several channels, most belonging to his media empire.
The prince also said that ending a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia was a matter of time, despite strong resistance from religious conservatives in the desert kingdom that is the birthplace of Islam.
"I think that driving (for women) is definitely coming," he said, playing up the economic benefits of saving wages paid to foreign drivers.
Prince Alwaleed regretted the "negative" outcome of Arab Spring uprisings, saying the politics of new Islamist-dominated governments "do not reflect the aspirations of the people ... for freedom and justice."
The uprisings which toppled strong Arab leaders would not reach the Gulf monarchies, where "the leaders look after the interests of their peoples," said the prince.