Will we or won’t we?
Eman Al Nafjan, Saudi blogger, asks whether we will see an uprising in the kingdom. Her view? ‘We are still on the train heading to revolution town.’
March 1, 2011 4:34 by shafeer
The king’s has been back for a week and the celebrations are over. A financial package was announced and then thousands of government employees were granted job security. A reshuffle of key positions within the government is expected to be announced shortly. Is it enough though and will Saudi people revolt? Those are the two questions on every one’s minds both within Saudi and abroad. Nobody knows the answers for sure, even the people planning revolts.
My view is that we are still on the train heading to revolution town. People are not happy with the concessions so far and the future is still very murky. Nothing that was proposed or granted has any real long-term substantial benefits. A third of the population is made up of expatriates, the overwhelming majority of which are able to work longer hours and for much less than a national. Meanwhile the unemployment rate is going through the roof. A lot of young people are disenchanted with the religious establishment and are unhappy with the constrictions on their personal freedoms. Older generations are fed up with the corruption, nepotism and the disappearance of the middle class.
However Saudis are very big on privacy, and putting up a good front so street protests are being put down as the last resort. Another concern making Saudis hesitate to protest is the fear that if they go out they’ll be tricked into being a part of a movement they don’t belong to. There’s a lot of mistrust concerning who the organizers really are and what they represent. One of the biggest concerns is that by going out, they’ll be accused of being supporters of Sa’ad Al Faqih, an extreme anti-royal who has dedicated his life to hating the Saudi monarchy. He has his own satellite channel where the only program is him sitting behind a laptop and lecturing about the evils of the Al Saud family and taking in calls from Saudis who pledge allegiance to him and to his hate. Last time I checked his channel he was saying that if you miss a prayer or commit a sin you can redeem yourself to God by spreading Al Faqih’s message! The only thing going for Al Faqih, is his playing on Saudi anger and resentment about THIS, which is well-known to the young and old long before Wikileaks was a mere twinkle in Assange’s eye.
As a pre-requisite to street protests, Saudis have chosen to first clarify what it is they want for the country. This past week has seen a cropping up of petitions galore. They are mainly similar to the one I translated in this post. The number on that Facebook page has now gone up to 8400. There’s another promising petition going to be published in the next couple of days that specifically addresses the concerns of young people.
Petitions are a grey area in Saudi law. They are vaguely legal but activists have been imprisoned for writing them and/or signing them. It’s unprecedented in Saudi history that we have people sign on their names and in such huge numbers demanding what has always seemed impossible. So far thousands have signed these petitions, people from all factions; well-off people with established careers to the unemployed who have little hope. Unhappiness with the current situation is something that has brought sworn enemies together. It’s becoming more and more difficult to tell apart the demands of conservatives from those of liberals and the demands of the majority from those of minorities. You have to actually go through the petition to pick up on the single point that they diverge on, otherwise there’s a large area of overlap across all the petitions. Across the board, there’s a demand for a constitutional monarchy and accountability and the end of corruption in handling the nation’s wealth.
Based on this unity, and the unprecedented public proclamation of unhappiness with the current situation by thousands, it becomes reasonable to say that things will escalate if demands aren’t met or at least major compromises are made.
The government’s response so far has been denial and acting on the pretense that these calls are only being made by a few that can be silenced through website blocking and political imprisonment. How long can the government keep it up, and is it in their interest to do so, are two questions that anybody can answer.
The following pages are a translation of the most prominent petition so far.