JIDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA, NOV. 9 -- Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, prodded by the Persian Gulf crisis, has decided to set up a long-promised consultative assembly in response to demands by many Saudis for greater participation in running their oil-rich country.

The king gave no details of the proposed shura, or advisory council, and offered no timetable for its introduction when he informed Saudi media officials Thursday of his decision. "Final touches" are being put on draft plans for the body, whose implementation will be announced "as soon as the final draft is completed," newspapers today quoted the king as saying.

A shura, usually an appointed body of advisers in Islamic countries, long has been the minimum demand of many Saudis, particularly the kingdom's wealthy and well-traveled middle class, many of whom were educated abroad. But the idea has been opposed by Saudi Arabia's powerful religious establishment.

Saudi monarchs have broached establishing a consultative assembly several times in the past, usually when the kingdom was facing a crisis. The idea was last floated in 1980, shortly after armed Saudi fundamentalists took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca and Shiite Moslems in the oil-rich Eastern Province rioted. The proposal, however, has never been acted on, despite completion two years ago of a building to house such an assembly in the capital, Riyadh.

Fahd's decision to act appears motivated by the crisis facing his kingdom following Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. Shocked by Iraq's action, the monarch and his royal family must contend with the impact on their society of nearly 350,000 foreign troops, including 230,000 Americans.

In preparing for a potential military conflict with Iraq that could mean widespread destruction and casualties, the royal family needs the support and loyalty of its 8 million citizens, particularly those with wealth and expertise, diplomats said.

Fahd, who already holds informal, unpublicized consultations with royal family members, religious elders and wealthy citizens before making important decisions, presented the shura as an outgrowth of Islamic principles. He cited several passages in Islam's holy book, the Koran, which many Saudis regard as their constitution, that encourage rulers to consult their people.

"We will not accept man-made systems and laws that are contrary to Islamic teachings," the king said.

While not directly linking his decision to the current crisis, Fahd quoted an early Islamic leader as saying that "in war, the Prophet {Mohammed} consulted the people and you have to abide by this."

The king's move also appears aimed at addressing criticism by some European and U.S. commentators of Saudi Arabia's lack of democratic processes, criticism that could undermine Western support for the military buildup here. Fahd's announcement came on the day that Washington said it would send another 200,000 troops here and just two weeks before an expected visit by President Bush.

In the three months since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, many Saudis have spoken out about wanting more say in governing their country, although most want to see this done gradually. One of their demands has been for a more informative press, a desire prompted by widespread anger at Saudi media for not even mentioning the Iraqi invasion for two days.

Reaction to Fahd's promise was low key but cautiously optimistic among Saudis today. "We are very pleased," said Abdulaziz Fayez, assistant professor of political science at Riyadh's King Saud University. "We don't know much" about how it will work, he said, "but at least we hope it will meet the demands of society, which is developing like any other society."

"What they've done is not enough, because it will only be some sort of consultative advisory thing," said one Saudi. He would like "a real parliament," he said, but one introduced "step by step" as education advances.