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

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid