Is there hope for Saudi Arabia?

Exciting times in the Middle East. Winds of change are sweeping across the region, giving hope to scores of frustrated youths after decades of stagnation. The Arab Spring was blossoming at alarming pace to the geriatric rulers who found themselves resisting an inevitable fate. No where was this clearer than in Saudi Arabia, which was, and still is, at the forefront of the counterrevolution. They welcomed Tunisian despot Ben Ali and gave him refuge, they supported Mubarak to the end even after the people of Egypt denounced him, and they sent their army to Bahrain to help crush the uprising there.

Domestically, the Saudi government took several measures to block the revolution from reaching their shores. They gave away financial aid packages worth $133 billion. They tightened restrictions on media. And when calls for protest spread in the country, security forces were heavily deployed in all major streets. The intimidation worked. The streets remained empty on March 11, except for one man, Khaled al-Johani, who is still missing after he showed up for the protest in Riyadh and spoke to journalists what many people have been thinking about but never dared to say in public. The government announced it will hold municipal elections later this year, but half of the members of the municipal councils will be appointed, and women are still excluded for participating.

Women played a crucial role in the Arab revolutions, and Saudi women have taken notice. In addition for not allowing them to vote or even work without their male guardians’ permission, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bars women from driving.

Women have been working on an online campaign in social networks to start driving their cars on June 17. The past week has witnessed several incidents of women driving in different parts of the Kingdom. The latest incident involved Manal al-Sharif, one of the organizers of the online campaign. Al-Sharif drove her car in the eastern city of Khobar. She was detained briefly then released, before being detained again from her house in the Aramco camp in Dahran at the wee hours of Sunday.

Al-Sharif is an information technology specialist with the state-owned oil giant Aramco. Behind the walls of the Aramco camp, women are allowed to drive and free to move without their abayas. Typically, Saudi police are not allowed inside the camp except in cases of crime or national security matters. Al-Sharif was arrested by members of the secret police (mabaheth), an eyewitness said. Al-Sharif’s brother was also detained, but he was released later on Sunday.

Her lawyer Adnan al-Saleh told the New York Times yesterday that al-Sharif will be held for up to five days on charges of disturbing public order and inciting public opinion. Today, the local al-Watan daily reported that al-Sharif had a meltdown and repented of her actions according to unnamed sources. But activist Samar Badwai who visited al-Sharif in her detention said the latter denied the news reported in local media and quoted her saying: “I’m still steadfast and strong thanks to your support.”

The support comes from more than 1,000 Saudis who signed a petition on Facebook asking the King to end al-Sharif’s detention. Human Rights Watch also demanded the government to release her. “Arresting a woman who drove her family around in a car and then showed it online opens Saudi Arabia to condemnation – and, in fact, to mockery – around the world,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at HRW.

It is certainly an embarrassing situation. The lessons of the recent popular uprisings should be fresh in our minds. Throwing money at problems does not solve them. Intimidation can only take you so far, and half measures are not the answer. Saudi Arabia is in severe need for political and social change immediately, because the status quo is simply unsustainable. But most of the recent indications point to the opposite direction. Is there hope for Saudi Arabia?

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26 thoughts on “Is there hope for Saudi Arabia?

  1. these delaying tactics will work as long as the pressure from the masses is thawrted. Saudi public isn’t ready coz many of them dont want to or not have enough courage. When you’re have a nice life style why would you wana ruin it.there will be hope only when majority of saudis will … not have good jobs, new cars and lavish life style….when your jobless, not have all the good stuff you go to streets coz you have nothing to loose right?

  2. i agree that “Throwing money at problems does not solve them”,
    King Abdul himself must not turn his eyes from these issues anymore, and HE should end all endless and useless arguments with DECISIONS.

  3. i think what’s happening in saudi arabia can be described as a social revolution. Women are beginning to stand up for their rights and so are the youth. A real political revolution will take some time and will be really messy.

  4. I am sure that those in power in Saudi Arabia have looked that world events for the last generation. China has cracked down on dissidents and survived. They do need to make changes, China has allowed private business to thrive.. I don’t think the Saudi government has figured out where to give and and where to crack down yet.

  5. You make some points but seem very biased in others.

    The Syrian and Libyan regimes are 100 times more ruthless than what you percive the Saudi rule is, yet those stood up for what is true tyrany.
    The reason there was no ‘revolution’ in Saudi is that the populace know that they are in the best shape possible and that any riots will only bring chaos forming into either political limbo such as Eygpt (yeah, they are much better off now) or a truly oppressive rule (such as Iran is suffering).
    So you are a Saudi, you get free education, free healthcare, subsidised everything and no taxes…there are problems but then you get a much nicer boss (King Abdullah) that truly wants to improve conditions without the capsizing the boat. But no, you want to jump up on tables, burn cars and trash public buildings because life isn’t as rosy not as the US is, but what you percieve from US movies.

    You are in the US now, the country is collapsing under corrupt spending and new totalitarian laws every day taking away the freedom of the American people.

    I’d rather you use your gift of gob to fight for Saudi rights abroad. Afterall, not a day goes by without a Saudi jailed, profiled, or detained for nothing more than having that green pasport.

  6. @Saudicotter

    “You are in the US now, the country is collapsing under corrupt spending and new totalitarian laws every day taking away the freedom of the American people”

    The country is in a financial mess, in part because the same jerk who went to war in Iraq for no reason, lowered taxes at the same time. Still the country is hardly collapsing. As far a totalitarian laws, the only laws passed in the last decade or so that might be called totalitarian (and I think totalitarian is the wrong word to use)were passed to address terrorism, (terrorism from Muslims to be exact and that mostly from Saudis). Those laws do make entry into the US difficult for some foreigners, but in terms of life on the ground in the US, they have little effect at all.

    • Just a few stories from this year alone:

      – Six year old gets molested by TSA
      – Tennessee passes “Don’t Say Gay” Bill
      – US Department of Agriculture orders small family to pay $90000 fine for selling $500 worth of bunnies
      – Government jails family for selling raw milk
      – Utah makes acting sexy illegal
      – Tennessee state police confiscate money from drivers without charge
      – Philly Police Harass, Threaten to Shoot Man Legally Carrying Gun
      – Indiana police law to allow entry by force and searching homes without a warrent
      – Homeless woman gets sent to fedral prison for sending her son to a public school

      These are just this year, and only stories that made major news. Now you may argue that the ‘victims’ broke laws. So the next time someone says some poor victim got arrested in Saudi, I simply reply that they broke the law.

  7. Saudi Jeans,I shared this post on Facebook and quoted this part in the area given to share things:

    “No where was this clearer than in Saudi Arabia, which was, and still is, at the forefront of the counterrevolution. They welcomed Tunisian despot Ben Ali and gave him refuge, they supported Mubarak to the end even after the people of Egypt denounced him, and they sent their army to Bahrain to help crush the uprising there.”

    A friend wondered about the Saudi response to Libya and I thought I’d ask you about your perspective and if you know the official KSA stance on that country and its leader. Could Gaddafi find refuge in Saudi if he wanted? What about Bashar al-Assad from Syria? And the guy from Yemen? Does Saudi’s official policy involve support to any and all dictators?

    Thanks for helping us learn more!

  8. @Saudicotter

    “- Six year old gets molested by TSA
    – Tennessee passes “Don’t Say Gay” Bill…”

    If your point is that Americans shouldn’t comment on Saudi law if they don’t understand the facts on the ground, you are welcome to make the case but you used the word totalitarian. I assume you not a native English speaker. The US isn’t seeing new totalitarian laws passed every day. Are the bad laws in the US, of course.

    • My point was that the laws that are inducted every day take away the freedoms of the American people and have nothing to do with keeping ‘bad guys’ out.
      What does canceling unions rights to collective bargaining have to do with security.

      Back to point, I am sick of these people comparing Saudi Arabia with the fictional USA in novels and movies. And for once would like an American voice defending the unjust treatment of Saudis in the US.

      • how the hell did you get from “Is there hope for Saudi Arabia” to “American Totalitarian laws”, and by the way on your first reply, Healthcare in SA is total Sh*t, if you had the flu or a headache sure you’ll get meds for that, but what if you had something serious, how many (معاريض/معروض) you’ll have to write begging and degrading yourself to get proper healthcare?

        and regarding the “Syrian and Libyan regimes are 100 times more ruthless than what you percive the Saudi rule is”, did you see the new draconian laws prince Na1f had put few weeks ago on media publishing?

        and Manal Al-sharif is facing “charges of disturbing public order and inciting public opinion.”
        what the hell kind of crime is that?
        and after all this you are telling me that “The reason there was no ‘revolution’ in Saudi is that the populace know that they are in the best shape”

        its because the ministery of interior and the secret police uses fear and supports the religious police (هيئة) to make sure everyone is either busy or scared sh*tless.

        so, what part of KSA you live in? because it sounds real nice from what you said. I’m thinking of moving there as long as it doesnt take a wasta to get into.

  9. Nop, Saudi Arabia will never see change, because we have a group of religious shaikhs with the mentality of mid-evil ages, grabbing the whole country by the balls, Just go on the king’s paid tuition program somewhere, get a degree, apply for a foreign country’s citizenship and never look back you’ll be shocked how normal human beings live outside the kingdom, you’d find out what it truly means to have dignity.

    and this god forsaken place will never change period.

    • Pretty much,

      Saudi Arabia will not change on its own accord. Neither the royal family or the religious establishment is willing.
      Many people, in a triumph of hope over experience, put a lot of faith in the king bringing reform. They have been sorely dissapointed.
      But worse for me is the duplicity: while imposing the status quo and opposing any change at home, out in the west they always portray that they are pro reform but the population is resistant.
      Women driving is a case in point. For years now they’ve blamed local culture and tradition as the barrier to women driving but as soon as women like Manal took to the road to demand their right to drive the real face emerges. The deputy interior minister now tells us that women are legally banned from driving since 1411 !

      This and the response to the arab spring have made things crystal clear: there is no hope for Saudi. You are faced with three choices:
      1- Eat hay and live like sheep.
      2- Dissent and go to jail.
      3- Leave the country and wash your hands.

      I’ve done the third. It’s particularly easy for me since I’m a Hijazi who grew up in Riyadh, so I was pretty much told I don’t belong.

  10. @Saudicotter:

    I think one of the most serious issues in this country is how satisfied the people are with the situation, and I assure you it’s a false satisfaction.

    Regarding your comments about free education and no taxes; these things are indeed very good, but don’t be fooled for a moment; this the Saudi people’s right, and if we weren’t being continuously mugged we’d be even better off.

    You’re asking people to be sheep and believe that “this is the best it can get”, but it’s not. Please educate yourself.

    • I did ‘educate’ myself. And believe me if this was ten years ago, I would be swept away with all these lemmmings chanting for an overthrow or something in the guise of it.

      Just glad that Saudi arent going the path of the US and detaining people without charge and spying on everyone and profiling foreigners and jailing people for minor incidents on basis of unkown laws. With the fat cats corruptly eating public money and never getting caught or punished.

      Oh and I wasn’t changing the subject, I keep refering to the US because those who want their unreasonable ‘change’ keep bringing up how rosy the US is, they can go there and stay for five years and become US citizens…then cry for the rest of their lives trying to get their Saudi nationality back.

      • tista3bi6 ya Saudicotter?
        Let’s see here:
        detaining people without charge and spying on everyone and profiling foreigners and jailing people for minor incidents on basis of unkown laws. With the fat cats corruptly eating public money and never getting caught or punished.
        That sounds very much like Saudi Arabia!

        As for the US, I’m not too partial on the place (too much religion and nationalism for my taste), but to suggest that it is more oppressive than Saudi Arabia is completely absurd.

  11. No Doc, I aient kidding. It may ‘sound’ like Saudi Arabia but it ‘is’ the US.

    And if comes to one in the same one day, I’m glad I won’t be paying for the agony with my tax money.

  12. I guess you bring up some valid points. While I still think we can be much better, I don’t think the “US status” should be our goal. Dare I say I like current-KSA more than current-US?

    food for thought.

  13. @Saudicotter

    Does that fact that the US has some bad laws in any way negate the need for reform in Saudi Arabia?

    Is it wrong for Americans to discuss the ills of Saudi Society while their own has a great many ills? I don’t think so, in the case here, women’s rights, the West has a lot of experience and the Saudis can certainly learn from ours. US society isn’t perfect, but what society is?

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