Ready to be disappointed?

I had an interesting, albeit infuriating, conversation with a conservative friend of mine last week (yes, I do have conservative friends, can you believe that?). My friend said Saudis should not respond to the calls to protest posted on Facebook because if they do they would be ungrateful to their country. I was gobsmacked. “Huh?! What do you mean?” I asked.

“Our government has given us everything,” he said. “In the past, our nation was a made up of poor tribes fighting each other over food and water. Look at us now. Look at our cities, our universities, our hospitals. Our country is the homeland of Islam. You should thank your lucky stars you where born here. Those who call for change are evil, because they want to waste all these great things that we enjoyed for so long. They want to replace safety and stability with mayhem and chaos, and we must not let them achieve that.”

After he finished that monologue, I ended the conversation. There was no point in debating with him after he labeled all those who might have a different opinion as disloyal, ungrateful brats. Few days later, I wished that I did not end the conversation on that note. I wished I told him this:

Thanks to the vast oil wealth, our country had made some quick developments. But to put it the way you did is wrong and patronizing. We are not subjects; we are citizens. And when the government does what it should be doing (like building schools and hospitals), it is by no means doing us a favor, because this is their job and duty. And it is our right as citizens of a country that enjoys great resources to get a good education, proper health care, and high living standards. More importantly, it is our right to live in dignity, be free to speak our minds, and have a say in how our country is run.

When the so-called Friday of Rage finally came around, very little rage was actually seen on the street. Except for a man named Khaled, the streets remained awfully quiet thanks to the heavy presence of security forces. One picture from Olaya St. showed chains of police cars, bumper to bumper, on both sides of the street. What happened, or rather what did not happen, on Friday has shown that contrary to what some people said, the fear barrier has not been broken yet. But it has also shown how nervous the government was.

The very audible sigh of relief released by the government in the day after reveals that the government did not get the message of Friday. Or maybe that they chose to ignore the message. Who knows?

While we wait for the imminent cabinet reshuffle, the news came out that the next cycle of municipal elections will be held in September. I saw conflicting reports over the participation of women, though. Some reports said women will be allowed to vote but not allowed to run. Other reports said women will not be allowed to take part at all due to “social reasons.” Considering that the old councils have been useless, and that the elections have been delayed several times before, I wonder if the public really cares about this anymore.

Interestingly, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) came out with a statement on Tuesday calling for reforms and urging the government to expand public participation. The language of the statement is much, much weaker than what we have read in other reform petitions released in the past weeks. While the previous petitions call for a constitutional monarchy and a fully elected parliament, NSHR merely calls on the government to “look into electing some members of provincial councils and the Shoura Council.” NSHR is said to be close to the government.

Some observers suggested that the statement reflects the thinking of the government and what they are willing to offer at this point. Such offer will probably fall short of what many people want. If the government is serious about reform, the least they can offer now is a fully elected Shoura Council with some teeth. Anything less than that will be a disappointment, and I don’t think that most people are ready for more disappointments. We had quite a few of those in recent months.

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15 thoughts on “Ready to be disappointed?

  1. Watch out ! Now they say we sent 08302947893275 students to U.K. and everywhere Suggesting that may terminate scholarships of those outside the kingdom who demand freedom and democracy over social networks! Rights are considered gifts (Makrama)given to those who express forever gratitude !! a newer version of Slavery !!Primitive thinking ! A hill !
    Dialogue is a way to loosen your demands ! so u can not impose ur rights on the table , like other countries, but you only get the minimum of ur demands according to their views of what you deserve . not what you think ! another hill.
    I thought that u will talk about Ruarter story..why he was asked to leave , what was his inaccurate report ?

  2. You absolutely said it right. More than just enjoying a high standard of living as proof of social contentment but absolute freedom to speak your mind as well.

    I’ve been following your blog and became instant fan of your fearless and bold views. kudos to you!

  3. Ahmed , you need to talk about Saudi Egg incidence in twitter which was days before 11 March. Their impact in internet was clear, They widen the gap bw Sunna and Shiate which was not that big, both of the them were demanding reforms. Just Like Gaddafi playing on the tribes game, they do it with Sunna and Shia who both are Muslims and never had such extreme conflict before.

  4. As much as I believe in liberty, I wish it was down to just suppression in Saudi Arabia. Suppression is only the least of our problems; all the religious interference in our educational and political systems that’s stopping us from developing as a nation and society, the extreme corruption in pretty much every governmental entity, the crazy amount of money that flows into the country, daily, but never to the hands of the people. You know, with our budget, we could have the highest standard of living in the world. If only our resources were utilized… but of course they’re not. And yes, we are citizens and these are our rights: we deserve freedom and we deserve political representation. We also shouldn’t have people living under roofs made of tin — with our resources, we shouldn’t even have an unemployment rate. See the problem is that people don’t even recognize the rights they don’t have; the weak education and censorship have succeeded in brainwashing the citizens and blocking their minds from acknowledging their inexistent essential rights. Analogous to the conversation you write about, I’ve had ones with people /debating/ democracy and freedom of speech. It really is sad.

    Anyways, sorry about that rant, but I really had to get it out of my system. Nice post.

  5. I thought you’d be interested to know that Facebook has been blocked (as of about 10 mins ago) at least through my Go account here in Riyadh.

    Maybe to avoid anything this weekend? I don’t know.

  6. Ahmad, don’t be so pessimistic. Change WILL come, it’s just that nobody wants to be a victim for something that will eventually come.

    Things don’t have to become very violant to know that we have achieved something. What were you expecting anyway? Something like Egypt or Tunisia?

    Saudis, and not just the Saudi government, are not like Egyptians or Tunisians. We aren’t countries born from revolutions or independence movements, our whole system is based on السمع و الطاعة

    و كما تكونوا يولى عليكم

  7. I might understand a sense of complacency from the older generation, those people who have seen Saudi Arabia go from a poor backwater to a wealthy country. Can anyone today justify the taking of so much of the wealth of the country by the Royal family? When the country was unified that amount of wealth they controlled was very limited, with the discovery of oil, that has changed. As an American I cannot judge the politics or know what the Saudis really want, but anyone can read statistics and see if the current system is working. The country simply cannot provide jobs for its young people. Whether that is because Saudis are not educated for the jobs at hand or because Saudis won’t take those jobs does not matter, the end result now is that the Saudi system isn’t working.

    • jerry m. Thank u for ur comment ur question is v. Important . The royal family is considering themselves as master and citizens are slaves and therefore the wealth is for the master not the slave. The slave must express his gratitude and thankfulness of small amount he she reseves. Look , any thing given to people as right is told as gift! New hospitals, sholarships and housing are colled gifts in news papers . So we are governed by old fashoned concept . This is a new form of slavery, royal families own the wealth and destrbute it according to thier members and people are begging in the form of poetry or writing in reporst or articals demanding medcine or housing or sth else. Religion here is not islam, this is saudi version of islam, using clerks to accredit policies .. I read a tweeet of princess saying that all people in twetter dending the house of saud are our slaves ,, they trade them,, i want to die , a crap , rea

  8. Don Cox hits the target – only those who live in a Republic are legally citizens. Those who expect meaningful change with a cabinet reshuffle are likely to be disappointed as it is simply an exercise of recycling dirty laundry without soap. Meaningful change will not come easily or quickly – those who supply lethal weapons to the regime (and to others in the region) do so as much for the preservation of the status quo as for business.

  9. First of all Ahmed, your post, this one and other, shows the typical westernized Arab journalist in you; biased for their opinion, invoke favoritism for one side of the story and usually the western backed side!

    You show the other pinion as being naive, while in fact their is a logic and reasoning behind it. Let me state that I think some reforms are needed but they way the Saudis need and want not the outsiders.

    I have lived in Quebec,Canada, so I am exposed to the western world and ideas while at the same time I am native of the eastern province in Saudi.

    Sectarian protests in Saudi Arabia took place many times and last time was on the what so called ” day of rage ” or days before it. The same groups that celled for protests to show support for Hezbollah and the same groups who you see pictures of Iranian leaders in their houses.

    Protests is not part of the GCC cultures, in most it at least. It is intended to turn to riot and stop the daily life. Espachialy when the same groups who have been shouting sectarian chants for many years, all of sudden turn to be nationalists after the Egyptian revaluation!

    You talk like you are ignorant about the Saudi and the gulf or would like to thank that a western-style governing body is what most people call for.

    We can look at Kuwait, where the parliament is fully elected , has powers and actually does things. On what baises do people vote, in most parts? Based on tribal loyalty, sectarian basis! A member of tribe will be supported by his tribesmen, weather they were locally educated or graduate from the west, they just know who the game is played! A Shiite will only vote for someone from his sect! I actually witnessed the inside game of the Kuwaiti elections! The outcome is, the dissolve of the Kuwaiti parliament every now and then! Holding real economic development back! You will look only on social reforms that many of your countrymen and women disagree on. You can not change the people if they don’t want, it is their culture which clearly some people have no sense of belonging to their local identity and based their reporting and analysis about Saudi on their own views that doesn’t represent the majority.

    On the other hand, Qatar a complete monarchy have achieved economic success for the people with no fully elected parliament and yet their people are conservative even that the country is very open but its the people’s culture.

    I agree that reforms are needed but in supporting Saudi investors and Saudi new graduate. The 130,000 students abroad is one thing I am happy to see, even-though I think it is not realistic to send all this number, especially taking that some of them is not qualified to study at university backhome let alone abroad! Nevertheless, This is a big , richer countries won’t even do it.

    I think King Abduallah is way more progressed than most of the people ( the majority that you don’t speck of Ahmed ) and reforms are taking place in a slow pace which I think it does suit the country and the culture. Believe if a free elections took place, most of the ” social ” issues you talk about will go on a way that you don’t like, because you don’t, or you ides, don’t represent the mainstream. I see bright future in the hands of loyal Saudis, loyal tot he land and the people and the king, and more to expect.
    The Foreign Agenda just don’t suit the land, even if unrealistic western backed voices say so.

    Salam

  10. Ahmed, there is (Political illiteracy) among the people of Saudi and people are enemy of what they don’t know. Take for example the concept of (The rule of law), I bet that more than 90% of the Saudi population have no idea what is that mean. In fact there are some people who resist the idea of adapting laws or positive law which mean – man made law- because this contradict with Sharia. In addition, the idea of constitution, it is still until today subject to debate. I think we need to have debate among ourselves about these fundamental things before we face the authority. I think we need to address these issues and to try to offer healthy environment to debate. People in every level need to realise that they need to educate themselves about how countries are run. You know Abdulrahman Alrashid, He wrote in an article in Alsharq Alawsat that ‘the most important thing in democracy is to have written constitution’!!. He is believed to be among the elite and is thought to offer valuable knowledge to the people. However, If we agree with his statement then we will categorise the United Kingdom as not democratic country because it has not written constitution. Forget about the UK, recently we overwhelmed by the west consentingly saying that Israel is the only democratic country in the Middle East. Israel has not got written constitution yet. What I want to say is that we need to have dialogue among the citizens then we can face the authority. In my opinion, it is too early to ask the authority to hand the power to the people. Remember, just thirty years ago – which is very short- the authority struggled to convince number of people to go to school. Yes to go to school. In fact the government took our hands gently to develop ourselves. I believe they was able to do worse and no one could ask them. And the country now is developing day by day in many aspects. However, that dosen’t mean the situation was and is perfect. Unislamic behaviour occurred hundreds of times such us torture, espionage on people and the rules of islamic law in some cases applied on normal people but not on the elite and Al Saud family. Also the theft of lands by the princes is unislamic and should not happened.

  11. Ahmad what would you expect from a country labeled after the house of the ruler. And consequently their citizen are so. First thing We are not Saudi’s (subject of house of Al Saud) but Arabian and free. I despise this name calling my royalty to my land not the ruler.

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