Is Saudi Arabia next?

With calls for people power ringing in neighboring Bahrain and Yemen, how long can the Saudi regime keep its iron hold


Ayesha Ijaz Khan March 27, 2011

As a child living in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, I remember flying into Bahrain from Dhahran several times. It was an eight-minute flight, perhaps one of the shortest international flights in the world. One barely had time to down the guava juice and dates and complete the landing card and you had touched down at Manama Airport. In 1986, the King Fahd Causeway was built and travelling to Bahrain meant just a half-hour car ride. With no visible mutawa (religious police), Bahrain was chilled out and thus the official R&R station for Saudis. It would have been difficult to conceive then that one day the causeway would be used to roll in Saudi tanks to the tiny island.

Later, when I was in college in the US, Professor James Bill, an Iran expert who taught me Middle East politics, claimed that the Gulf monarchies were “whopping cranes” and that their demise was imminent. On holidays back to Saudi Arabia to visit my parents, it was difficult to assess whether Professor Bill was right or wrong, as so little of what was going on in the country was revealed in newspapers. As one example, when Iraq first invaded Kuwait, it was carried as a small news item on the back page of the English daily, Arab News, and it wasn’t till my family was dropping me off at the airport a few days later, that a CNN crew stuck a mike in my face asking, “How do you feel being on the last commercial airliner out of Saudi?”

We had heard that the hotels in Al-Khobar were full of Kuwaitis, but there was no mention in the media of the large numbers of American troops that would be based in Saudi Arabia. Although both Saudi Arabia and the US had previously bankrolled Saddam’s war with Iran, this was different because now Saudi Arabia was teaming up with the Americans against a fellow Arab and former ally. There was resentment amongst the people but, unlike in Pakistan, no outlet to voice that frustration. As an expatriate, I was even less likely to hear condemnation of their government from the few Saudis that I interacted with, but I remember that even my Quran teacher’s mother voiced muted disapproval. It is this festering of resentment, an inability to freely oppose government policy or to channel it as political opposition that led to more sinister expression in the form of al Qaeda.

The case of Saudi Arabia is so different from that of Pakistan’s or even Egypt’s. With tons of money to go around, it has been far easier for the government to buy loyalties and deliver basics such that there are no chants for democracy. But when both Bahrain and Yemen, neighbouring countries in which Saudi Arabia is keenly involved, have erupted in shouts of Al-shaab urid iskat al-nizam (the people want the end of the regime), and when Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have made the world a much smaller place, how long can the Saudi regime maintain its iron hold is questionable. When astute bloggers like Ahmed alOmran of saudijeans.org speak for the reform-minded youth, what Arab News says becomes far less relevant.

Although in the past Saudis may have been placated with stipends and subsidies, with a growing population and a high unemployment rate, it may be difficult to sustain such policies of seeming benevolence and better to adopt more meritocratic methods. Families of missing people abducted by Saudi security forces have legitimate grievances as do those who suffer from a lack of infrastructure, as in the case of the flooding in Jeddah. Add to that the corruption of the upper echelons which cannot even be mentioned by the press and there is much to protest. By interfering in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia will give its own disgruntled Shia population more reason to mistrust their government. In the event that the protests of Qatif and Hofuf catch on, the Saudi monarchy will have no option but to turn to the West for help, just as the Bahraini emir has done.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2011.

COMMENTS (33)

Z. Akbar | 10 years ago | Reply @pinky: I would like to argue with you on a few points but then again, I really can't be asked arguing with someone who supports a terrorist monarchy built on bloodshed and looting, but then again it is quite fun. Look at the history of our religion Kingdoms never lasted, Khilafats disappeared into the dust so how will they last? We all know the history of Al-Saud, they waged a war against the Ottomans and they conquered the land and the Holy Kabah, so they are "Qabiz" and in Islam a "Qabiz" can never be the ruler of the Holy cities. Apart from that their wide sponsorship of terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, granted Pakistan hasn't done itself any favours, Saudi Arabia which expects so much from Pakistan supports the destruction of Pakistan. We all know as well, that they were willing to form an anti Hezbollah militia at the behest of USA and Israel, my my how noble of them. Furthermore, they were willing to pay off US to attack Iran. So many other reasons, opression of women, opression of freedom of speech, opression of religious minorities, unemployment and so many more things. In fact it will be their own internal developments that become their undoing. As far as Al Qaeda goes, their agenda is kill and conquer, but wasn't that the agenda of Saud. They all come from the same school of thought. So, really in some way, Al Qaeda is a way for the people of wahabi Islam and arab tribal decent to express their views. Hazrat Ali has stated "People can withstand the rule of a non believer, but they cannot with stand the rule of tyranny" Everything culminates into one movement that overpowers. Saudi Arabia will have its day, no matter how much they try to buy off people, how much will they buy off, they can't buy off everyone there will be people whose principals will be stronger than money. Insha'Allah Saudi arabia will fall.
R. Khan | 10 years ago | Reply Saudi Arabia is the "Big Daddy" of terrorism spread all over the world since they finance all the terrorist activities. They must go & have democracy in Saudi Arabia. It's high time that they integrate with other nations. They cannot live in isolation. Wake up Saudi Arabia! For rest & recretion they go to Bahrain & UAE. How hyprocite they are? They way they behave when on vacation in London makes you wonder that these playboys are such hyprocites when in their own country. They think very poorly of Pakistan & think of them as beggers.
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