News / Middle East

Could Unrest Hit Saudi Arabia?

Saudi riot police gather as Saudi Shi'ite protesters, unseen, chant slogans during a demonstration in Qatif, March 11, 2011
Saudi riot police gather as Saudi Shi'ite protesters, unseen, chant slogans during a demonstration in Qatif, March 11, 2011

The clamor for political change has gripped many nations of the Middle East, but Saudi Arabia has been a comparative oasis of calm. There is concern about the possible outbreak of political unrest there.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine says of those countries that so far have escaped the kinds of political protests that have forced change in Egypt and Tunisia, Saudi Arabia concerns her the most.

"There you have all the precursors that we’ve seen in other countries," she said. "You have a very aged leadership that is very narrow, very insular; a very young population; you have very large income disparity, unemployment."

Saudi authorities have firmly clamped down on any political demonstrations.  Small demonstrations in early March, primarily by minority Shi’ite Muslims in the restive Eastern Province, were quickly suppressed by security forces.

Emile Nakhleh, former head of the Political Islam Program at the Central Intelligence Agency, says the danger signal to watch for is an eruption of protest outside Eastern Province.

"Saudi Arabia, I would say, is the two-ton elephant in the room that nobody talks about.  I think Saudi Arabia is truly the country to watch.  And I think the signpost in Saudi Arabia that we need to look at as a sign of potential trouble is if there are some protests in places like Jeddah, not in the Eastern Province where the Shia live," said Nakhleh.

Jeddah is a comparatively liberal city in the kingdom, especially when compared to the capital, Riyadh. 

Calls for change

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah speaks to Saudi media upon his arrival at Riyadh airport, February 23, 2011
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah speaks to Saudi media upon his arrival at Riyadh airport, February 23, 2011

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, dominated by conservative Sunni Muslims, that has little patience with any political opposition.  Yet, as Emile Nakhleh points out, some Saudis signed a petition to King Abdullah asking for change.

"A petition that was signed by over 200 Saudis from cross [all] walks of life demanded that - well, petitioned - the king to institute real change - a constitution, a parliament with legislative powers, independent judiciary. I mean, there were very real demands," said Nakhleh.

However, says Barbara Bodine, Saudi Arabia’s rulers may not be able to respond positively to such calls.

"I think one of the criteria on whether a government is able to adapt to the demands or break under the demands is whether or not it has the political institutions that will help it evolve very quickly," she said.  "And you don’t really have that in Saudi Arabia.  So I think I would watch Saudi Arabia as the next big one.  If Saudi Arabia were to start to fracture, I’m not sure what would hold it together."

Saudi intervention in Bahrain

Saudi Arabian troops cross the causeway leading to Bahrain in this still image taken from video, March 14, 2011
Saudi Arabian troops cross the causeway leading to Bahrain in this still image taken from video, March 14, 2011

In what may be the clearest example of Saudi Arabia’s unhappiness at calls for change, it sent a military force into neighboring Bahrain to help the Bahraini government stifle the protests there.  Analysts say the action was sparked by Saudi fears of purported Iranian sponsorship of the protests.  

But a new report by the International Crisis Group calls the Saudi fears unfounded.  It labels the Bahraini crackdown and the Saudi intervention "dangerous moves" that could exacerbate sectarian tensions since Bahrain has a Shi’ite majority population but a Sunni-dominated government.  

Emile Nakhleh notes that Arab states that backed the U.N. establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya have not supported the Saudi intervention in Bahrain.

"It’s very interesting that many Arabs have supported the Western no-fly zone over Libya and Western military attacks on Libya, but opposed Saudi intervention in Bahrain because they view the Saudi intervention in Bahrain as an anti-Shia thing rather than in defense of necessarily the Bahraini regime, but as a promoter of sectarianism," said Nakhleh.

How will US respond?

Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the region.  It is not known how the U.S. would respond if there is an outbreak of political upheaval and demand for change in the kingdom, especially if there is any intelligence indicating involvement of al-Qaida in the unrest.   Al-Qaida is bitterly opposed to the Saudi monarchy, especially for its alliance with the U.S. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden came from a wealthy Saudi family.  

There are also fears of steep increases in oil prices if unrest erupts as Saudi Arabia is the world’s second biggest oil producer, only slightly behind Russia.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More