It is time for Saudi Arabia to curtail its religious establishment and institute reforms to survive political problems including terrorism, a Saudi royal said this week.

"We need political reform first of all. Parliament has to have the right to take government to account," Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, a half-brother of the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, told Reuters in an interview, adding that most ministers lacked real power.

"So far the intellectuals agree on the unity of the kingdom, that we should have an Islamic Sharia law but an enlightened version, and that we retain the royal family but with reform."

"The mentality of the state needs to change in one way or another. Many elements of the state are not in the 21st century," said the son of the kingdom's revered founder.

He said the government must rein in Saudi Arabia's Committee for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, known as the mutawwaeen or "enforcers", an indepen-dent body supervised by the king.

"The mutaww-aeen should be answerable to the police. If they see violations it is not they who should take any action, they should just tell the police," he said.

Women's rights should also be part of any reforms, he said. "I see women looking like black tents walking down the street - it doesn't suit the new century. And women should drive cars," he said, adding he would make the landmark move of appointing a woman as head of a Saudi university.

A group of liberals in a rare move demanded reform from the royal family, which has enjoyed absolute power in a political system since the country was founded over seven decades ago. They sent two petitions to Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz who promised to consider their demands for political participation and fair distribution of wealth.

Prince Talal, a philanthropist who runs the Arabian Gulf Fund, said tackling poverty, transparency and unemployment were central to reform.

He said "armies of poor" were one factor pushing Saudis to violence. Authorities this year acknowledged that poverty existed in the kingdom.

"I hear that much of the money for the poor doesn't get to them. There is no supervision, and that needs a free press and a parliament that monitors state spending," he said.