2011-02-18 The Arab Revolution Saudi Update

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Remember, in a former post, when I said that Saudis were captivated and shocked by what happened in Tunis and Egypt but hadn’t collectively made up their mind about it? Well it appears that they have. Everywhere I go and everything I read points to a revolution in our own country in the foreseeable future. However we are still on the ledge and haven’t jumped yet.

I know that some analysts are worried particularly of Saudi Arabia being taken over by Al Qaeda or a Sunni version of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. Calm down. Besides my gut feeling (which is rarely wrong), the overwhelming majority of people speaking out and calling out for a revolution are people who want democracy and civil rights and not more of our current Arab tradition based adaptation of Sharia. My theory of why that is, is that Al Qaeda has already exhausted its human resources here. The available muttawas, are career muttawas (fatwa sheikhs) and minor muttawas (PVPV) of convenience both paid by the government and do not want the current win-win deal between them and the government to sour. So it’s unlikely that they would actively seek change. Actually quite the opposite, they will resist and delay as much as they can. Fortunately the winds of change can’t be deterred by a PVPV cruiser.

Last night Prince Talal Bin Abdul Alaziz, the king’s half-brother, did a TV interview on BBC Arabia that was widely watched and discussed. In it he warned of an upcoming storm if reforms aren’t dealt with right now. He used the word “evils” to describe what would happen if King Abdullah passed away before ordering the required changes. Prince Talal also strongly advocated a constitutional monarchy and democracy as long as it’s similar to what they have in Kuwait and Jordon. However he hinted that there were people in the ruling family who do not believe in change.

This whole past week was eventful. The first political party to form during King’s Abdullah’s reign, the Islamic Umma Party, has been arrested. According to the party’s released statement, they were informed that they would not be released until they sign a document promising that they will abandon all political aspirations.

In Qatif, a Shia majority area in Eastern Saudi, there is talk that there was a protest demanding the release of political prisoners yesterday. Ahmed Al Omran from SaudiJeans tweeted a pamphlet that was being distributed in Qatif, calling for protests today, Feb 18th, at 8pm.

A hashtag on Twitter, #EgyEffectSa, about the effect of Egypt on Saudi was popular, with a lot of courageous Saudis speaking their mind. The common thread across most of the tweets was for human rights, freedom of speech, democracy and government accountability.

Saving the best for last, a 6100 strong and growing group on Facebook has been started. The group is only for Saudis and you need to be approved to join. I’ve translated their demands:

The People want to Reform the Government Campaign

To support the right of the Saudi people and their legitimate aspirations:
1 – a constitutional monarchy between the king and government.
2 – a written constitution approved by the people in which governing powers will be determined.
3 – transparency, accountability in fighting corruption
4 – the Government in the service of the people
5 – legislative elections.
6 – public freedoms and respect for human rights
7 – allowing civil society institutions
8 – full citizenship and the abolition of all forms of discrimination.
9 – Adoption of the rights of women and non-discrimination against them.
10 – an independent and fair judiciary.
11 – impartial development and equitable distribution of wealth.
12 – to seriously address the problem of unemployment

Impressive, right?! And if these demands aren’t met, according to a lot of the discussions on the group’s page, there will be a protest in Riyadh on Olaya street March 11th. I was also impressed by their code of conduct in which they committed to no sectarianism, no violence or incitement to violence, and no hate speech.

Everyone is holding their breath and delaying doing anything drastic until the King is back. Reports vary, some say he is expected Monday, others say Wednesday. Either way, whatever he does when he gets back will decide the fate of our country. In my opinion, the least he can do is draw up and announce a clear succession that will carry the throne from the brothers’ generation into their sons’. As this is an area of great concern and instability for Saudis because we fear that without a clear and public succession, we might have a civil war between factions of the ruling family. King Abdullah should name names such as heir1 then heir2 then heir3…etc so that the fifth or sixth is a ten or twelve year old. Thus stability is maintained fifty years into the future. Another thing that needs to be done is to aggressively fight corruption and promote transparency and accountability for everyone no matter who they are. If these two issues are taken care of as soon as he gets off the plane, then I predict that things just might calm down and a lot of people won’t be so anxious for change. If not, then the campaign above will just grow bigger and bigger and many more will crop up until eventually the Saudi people will cross the revolution threshold.
Recommended reading:

From Tunis to Cairo to Riyadh? Wall Street Journal piece by Karen House

Will the House of Saud adapt enough to survive … again? Toronto Star piece by Caryle Murphy

Rage, Rap and Revolution: Inside the Arab Youth Quake Time piece by Bobby Ghosh

This article has been reprinted with permission from Saudiwoman's blog