News / Middle East

Analysts: Saudi Arabia Nervous About Domestic Discontent

Saudi Arabia's FM Prince Saud al-Faisal calls for dialogue, not protest, during a news conference in Jeddah Mar 9 2011
Saudi Arabia's FM Prince Saud al-Faisal calls for dialogue, not protest, during a news conference in Jeddah Mar 9 2011

Analysts studying the popular uprisings now shaking much of the Arab world are beginning to wonder if the turmoil could spread to Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that is the world’s biggest oil exporter and a key U.S. ally. There are already calls for political reform in Saudi Arabia, and now, efforts to organize unprecedented public protests.

When a popular uprising ousted the government of Tunisia in January, experts predicted there could be similar revolts in other Arab nations with authoritarian governments. In short order, uprisings did break out in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Libya and the island nation of Bahrain just off the coast of Saudi Arabia.

But despite the turmoil all around the kingdom, many experts continue to insist that a similar uprising is unlikely in a conservative society like Saudi Arabia. Not everyone agrees. Several thousand Saudis have joined Internet groups calling for a "Day of Rage" protest in the capital, Riyadh, on Friday, March 11.. The aim is to push for major political and social reforms in the tightly-controlled Saudi kingdom. Additionally, more than 100 leading Saudi academics, activists and businessmen signed a petition last month urging King Abdullah to enact sweeping reforms, including the establishment of a constitutional monarchy.

Saud Kabli, a political commentator for the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan, says it is "still early to say such things in Saudi Arabia."

"The social environment, in the first place, didn’t reach a critical mass for such a change," said Kabli. "Of course you are going to have some groups calling for a Day of Rage, and you will have some supporters from here and there, but it is [more] driven by sentiment than by reason. ... In Saudi Arabia we still lack this coherent vision, even among different young groups.  Awareness is now required in Saudi Arabia and this will take some time for things to evolve."

Saudi Shi'ite cleric Tawfiq al-Amir (R) greets supporters in Al-Ahsa, Mar 6 2011, after his release from prison. He was arrested for calling for a constitutional monarchy and a fight against corruption, witnesses and human rights activists said
Saudi Shi'ite cleric Tawfiq al-Amir (R) greets supporters in Al-Ahsa, Mar 6 2011, after his release from prison. He was arrested for calling for a constitutional monarchy and a fight against corruption, witnesses and human rights activists said

Noting that public demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia, Kabli says Saudi culture is very traditional and strongly opposes public displays of civil disobedience. In any case, the commentator says change should be gradual because the kingdom has no political parties or parliamentary system. He acknowledges the need for dialogue about needed reforms, but not a regime change.

"We need to have more young people inside the government, inside the leadership promoting the vision of the young people. ... People are calling for a constitutional monarchy," Kabli said. "You can’t have a constitutional monarchy without having a strong parliament, for instance, and awareness of people of setting elections. ... I think what needs to be done is to initiate this process. We need to start a real dialogue to discuss how we are going to take these things forward towards creating a vision."

Perhaps reacting to the turmoil elsewhere in the Arab world, King Abdullah recently announced a $37 billion assistance package including debt forgiveness and a 15 percent cost-of-living increase for public-sector employees. He also offered them interest-free loans for those about to marry and to start up businesses.

But for the group of Saudi academics, activists and businessmen who petitioned the king last month, financial giveaways were not enough. They called instead for wide-ranging political reforms, including the right to form political parties and the right to elect the Shura Council. Under Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy, the Shura Council is not a legislature, as such, but only a consultative assembly, and its members are all appointed by the king.

Marina Ottaway is director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. She says Saudi Arabia is very different from the Arab nations already experiencing popular uprisings, and she predicts political reform there will not be easy.

"Saudi Arabia is one of the most difficult cases," said Ottaway. "You have to start from scratch, and I do not think the U.S. has any clear idea about what kind of process would take Saudi Arabia from where it is now to become a more democratic country, or what is the sequence of changes. Nobody knows."

It is not yet clear whether those pushing for political reforms in Saudi Arabia will be able to organize their planned "Day of Rage" protest (on Friday). If they do, the Saudi Interior Ministry has vowed to do whatever it takes to preserve stability. And if there is violence, the Obama administration could be facing new challenges in balancing its alliance with the Saudi royal family and its emphasis on respect for the right of free speech and peaceful assembly.

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

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
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 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 US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
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.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

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