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Is Saudi Arabia next?

Published: March 28, 2011

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

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 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.

Reader Comments (33)

  • ishaq
    Mar 28, 2011 - 1:13AM

    Saudi Arabia is the main Terrorists Fund Raiser That’s
    why it needs a revolution in form of democracy.

  • John
    Mar 28, 2011 - 2:25AM

    and west won’t interfere. The End.

  • Noor Nabi
    Mar 28, 2011 - 2:50AM

    The Saudi monarchy is already limping along with the help of the West. However, with having to deal with its own decadence, the West can do little to keep the Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall. There is no stopping an idea whose time has come.

  • anonymous
    Mar 28, 2011 - 3:35AM

    I look forward to the day when the drunken and immoral Saudi monarchy falls! They will pray to their lord USA to save them, it will be quite the sight…

  • Arindom
    Mar 28, 2011 - 3:39AM

    These undemocratic regimes in Saudi and elsewhere in the Middle East are basically ruthless dictatorships in the garb of ‘Islamic’ rule or benevolent monarchy. They have survived so long solely due to either oil money or government terror on it’s own people.

    What befuddles me is why does Pakistan, a far more populous, far more democractic and indeed far smarter and modern act like mere minions of the Saudis and other arabs? Pakistan must forcefully and clearly voice it’s South Asian heritage, history and modern liberal democratic culture; and shed all pretenses of following ‘Arab leadership’ because there is none!!

  • rai hammad
    Mar 28, 2011 - 4:48AM

    Very good article,
    we as muslim umma should have been realise that it’s not america or west which is responsible for our myserable standing in socio economic fabric of the whole world.But,it is these so called “angles” who name themselves as “kadman e harman sharifan”,”kings,prince or in our country bhottos and sharifs as “awami numainday” .
    These are our real culprit.Whether they are kings,khadmain e harmain,army generals or fake awami numainday who came into power in the presence of 45% bogus votes….
    Realy its time for change as our turkish brothers did by choosing right people to lead them not army or corrupt awami numainday.

  • Edward
    Mar 28, 2011 - 6:32AM

    Thank you for this article. Yours is the most reasonable assesment of the developing situation I have read thus far, and your insights from a personal perspective lend credence to your view. I have spent some time researching the many moving parts within the element of this contagion that is unfolding and I found your thoughts and insights to be a valuable source of consideration. Edward E.

  • Mahmood Hussain
    Mar 28, 2011 - 8:42AM

    Nicely written! But here in current scenario Saudi don’t need to call west for help in Bahrain and Qateef. Saddam had invaded with trained Armed troops but the civilians in bahrain and qateef has only kitchen knives and some canes, so coward saudi army are confident with their latest weapons and Pakistani national security force.
    I don’t think that Iran or Hizbullah could get armed intervention their.

  • Shep Glennon
    Mar 28, 2011 - 8:43AM

    Well written. Imagining if there were a ballot referendum or protests, what kind of democracy would the majority in Saudi Arabia want? A constitutional monarchy with a limited king, or a republican democracy like in the U.S.?

  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Mar 28, 2011 - 8:58AM

    Whether Saudi Arabia will turn to the West for help or not is still a question.

    At the moment, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, special emissary of the Saudi king had met with the Pakistani political and military leadership to get support of Government of Pakistan to save Saudi Arabia from uprising.

    Monarchies are not more relevant in the present day world when people are not satisfied with the working of government.

    The British Monarchy is a role model for the Arab World where Queen Elizabeth remains the Queen and then there is there is a complete set up political government in which people choose their elected representatives and have their say.

    Unfortunately wherever Monarchy exists, it is system of doing one side government but the problems of the people keep on piling as the citizens do not have their say in the respective countries.

    When the religion “Islam” says that the men and women have equal rights and it is also written in the Holy Book “Quran” then whey women in Saudi Arabia are barred from driving vehicles and participate in country’s polls?

    Saudi Arabia should give the needed freedom to its citizens, if the Kingdom would like to avert the uprising.

    The best option is that the Kingdom should remain there but there should be a complete democratic setup of the government in the country.

    In his last address, the Saudi King has allowed the people to participate in the local body election which is just a small part of democracy and still much is needed to be done to solve people’s problems.

  • Mar 28, 2011 - 9:28AM

    In the name of religion monarch have ruled, it seems forever. When the time for power by religious fanatics comes, it will be anarchy. After all when and for how long has an Islamic state flourished for the people and by the people in our 1400 hundred years of Islamic history.The Saudi Monarch has still a chance to share power and avert uprising.Somehow, all these revolutions in the end, benefit the west and not the local people?

  • Pakpindi
    Mar 28, 2011 - 10:11AM

    A balanced and convincing article but, i am afraid, far removed from reality.
    whatever is being winessed must be analysed in the light of America’s aspiration to change the (political) map of the Middle East.
    If revolutions are born of dictatorial and wicked regimes, Saudi Arabia should have been the starting point. Since its all West-sponsored, how can we expect the overthrow the kingdom of Saudis who have always enjoyed a cosy place in the lap of imperial powers?
    it all started in Egypt which was used as a rehearsal venue for carrying out this drama of revolutions in anti-imperialist countries. So we see no foreign intervention or attacks on Egypt despite a long duration of protests and large number of casualties there, than in Libya where the unholly alliance took no time to move to action. Seeing this trend it can be safely said that the next pseudo-revolutions are very much likely to (be made to) erupt in Syria and Iran-or any other anti-imperialist country.
    I wonder at the naivety of the analysts who are talking of or expecting an unrest in countries like Saudi Arabia.

  • rAz
    Mar 28, 2011 - 10:15AM

    Indeed. They are sitting on a ‘time-bomb’. Having lived most of my life in Eastern Province & now working here, I must say a lot has changed in real-terms but yes Media remains to be a strictly-controlled puppy.

    With reference to Iraq War, I remember being confused as a child about the role/ positioning of Saddam. Here in KSA he was considered a villain whereas on my visits to Pakistan, I found people hanging posters of him all around & praising him as a hero!

  • pinky
    Mar 28, 2011 - 10:20AM

    to even suggest that saudi arabia is next is completely wrong. saudi arabia has an extremely small shia population, which most of the other population consider outcasts because they are of iraqi origin and not bedouin.
    you place no real arguement as to why saudi arabia would be next you just say that to get reader attention, their newspapers are biased and say that they are corrupt and then proceed to point out flaws in order to make them look bad.
    also the alqaeda emerging because people cannot express their views is a logical fallacy. al qaeda is an extremist group that wants to wage a twisted “holy war” on non muslims. not because of an “inability to freely oppose government policy or to channel it as political opposition”.
    also, bahrain has a king.
    a closer look reveals your bias as your article is neither news nor a critique nor an opinion. its couple of unrelated facts mixed together, care to prove me otherwise?

  • pinky
    Mar 28, 2011 - 10:21AM

    if you want todefend your writing/ claim you arent just trying to cause controversy.
    email me

  • Dr Zulfiqar
    Mar 28, 2011 - 10:28AM

    With Saudi Royal Army Chief General Saleh Al-Mahia’s visit to Pakistan followed by Saudi National Security Chief Bandar Bin Sultan Al Saud, it is obvious how dire the internal situation of Saudi Arabia is. Pakistan, a cash/oil starved country has already offered all-out support to Saudi without realizing that it can have worst consequences back in Pakistan – similar to that of supporting Americans in Afghanistan. With over 32 million shiite population living in Pakistan outrageous on Pakistan’s policy above can be exploited by India and other enemies of Pakistan. Additionally, a friend turned no-friend (over the issue of Afghanistan) Iran on its neighbor bordering Baluchistan where insurgency and separatists movement is already increasing, the policy of supporting Saudi Arabia can have a serious backlash in Pakistan. I hope Pakistan only provides a lip service to Saudi with no action on ground.

  • Saad Durrani
    Mar 28, 2011 - 10:50AM

    If I was the King of Saudi Arabia, I would have been worried. I would have called a meeting and I would have tried to make amends to my own power circle. I would have fixed the national education system and would have used the immense wealth I have for the empowerment of Saudi youth.

    Rather than oppressing, a country like Saudi Arabia should empower.

  • Adeel
    Mar 28, 2011 - 10:51AM

    Very good piece by Ayesha….the fall of Saudi monarchy will be end of dictatorship in major parts of Muslim world..

  • Nilofer
    Mar 28, 2011 - 12:25PM

    @pinky: Challenging a person who has lived in that part of the world with fine education does not suit to a person who comes from a land which is as dry as desert with regard to wisdom and intellect. Can someone tell me the name of any intellectual coming out of Saudi Arabia in the last 90 years of Al-Saud rule….

  • Silly Boy
    Mar 28, 2011 - 12:30PM

    Your astute blogger “Ahmed alOmran” of “” wants:

    -Release of all political prisoners
    -Lift the ban on women’s driving
    -Stop all forms of censorship

    Now how is this comparable to Egypt, Tunisia, Libya… where the igniting factor was/is the Elite/Working class gap. I hope the Saudis have the commonsense to differentiate right from wrong and not just blindly follow the revolution fad basing their decisions on blog posts from these so called “Astute” blogger.

  • Mar 28, 2011 - 1:21PM

    Saudis will not fall till the big brother does not wish.The kingdom has business ties with the hierarchy of USA.And the hierarchy is probably the American establishment.Till the homework is done nobody can move Saudis.

  • Ashiq Khan Achakzai
    Mar 28, 2011 - 1:46PM

    Saudi Monarchy is as dear to US as is the state of Israel. As rightly put by President Putin, the crusade has been launched through UN Security Consul. The same organization which approved of Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. Pakistan was destroyed in the process.
    USA and NATO will attack Saudi Arabia if there is danger to the House of Saud.
    President Bush had himself declared war on Iraq and Afghanistan as a Crusade. Now there would be people who are more loyal than the King who would still say that it is not a Crusade.

  • zawaf
    Mar 28, 2011 - 3:32PM

    few observations …

    i) if somebody claims that he knows about whats going on in Al-Saud, he is overstating his information because how power plays in Saudi Royal family is least known to public…

    ii) And Saudi Arabia is not only about the King .. or even not only about the Al-Saud family… Al-Saud is ‘sharing’ power with other tribes as well.. to understand has to go back to AbdulAziz & how he formed the Kingdom with the support and arrangement of other tribes…

    iii) about Bander bin Sultan … he is, (to my understanding of Saudi Arabia), one of the most influential man in power corridors..

    iv) there is a growing concerns about the health of King, Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince and Riyadh Governor .. (King and the other two in line…are sons of AdbulAziz from different wives),
    so rumors are that the next man to be King .. is Prince Khaled (son of late king Faisal); he was made governor of Mecca in recent times… to make his stature …

    v) like it or not … Saudi affairs must be seen as ‘the custodian of two Holy Mosques’ means religious circles play an important role in consolidating power in Riyadh … (for example.. late King Fahd was married to a daughter of Prophets mosque’s imam)

    *Again all we know about ‘power corridors of AL-Saud’ is from merely … Opinions.. Rumors… not concrete information!

    the commenter is working in Saudi Arabia on ‘diplomatic status’…

  • Rana Asghar
    Mar 28, 2011 - 4:46PM

    Excellent Article! Hope these King & 10000 princes find a place in Congo since they have destroyed us by inflicting Wahibbism form of Islam. I have no respect for them since they are all bunch of crooks.

  • sudhir
    Mar 28, 2011 - 4:56PM

    @Rana Asghar: Rana u r a convert u will be tried for blasphemy

  • Nadeem Ahmed
    Mar 28, 2011 - 7:58PM

    Better late than never, Al saud should have been the first ones to go. But the real question is, will there be any change in Saudi Society? When greatest man of human history could not succeed in changing their mentality, how its possible for anyone else. They will remain most racist people on the planet.

  • Apeman
    Mar 29, 2011 - 2:22PM

    It’ll be one happy day when the Arabian monarchy collapses.

    “Saudi” Arabia… naming a country after a family? What hubris!

    I look forward to Arabia joining the ranks of nations.

  • Mar 29, 2011 - 2:23PM

    Probably the time has come that we get rid of this terrorist/talib chimeny. The time is there for the holy sons to go back to the roots, leave Afghanistan and Pakistan in peace nad build their Islamic emirrates of Terroristan in there.
    Qaeda – guys go back home, it calling.

  • mashy
    Mar 29, 2011 - 3:51PM

    Nillofer, and for those people who are feel badly jealous and feel stomach ache when they here about this country. you do not want democracy, u dont want freedom for saudis people, otherwise, u will criticize Iran which kill and torture thier people, some of readers are shieas and some are low educated from the ignored land of pakistan who lived and feel save in Saudi Arabia then forgut everything when go outside. regarding Pakistan, i want to remimber what did this country did for the world except wars and begging for food and money. Iran also hate Saudis and the stubid arab shieas follow Iran like sheep.
    The conclusion is: you wosh but you cant and Saudis still the most generous people for poor Muslims (all muslims) even if they are like some jealous

  • loyal to Pakistan
    Mar 29, 2011 - 6:05PM

    I hope so.

  • shafik
    Mar 30, 2011 - 4:33AM

    Saudi arabia is the master evil , it should be dismantled and let the world breath in peace from the impending dooms of AQ and other several wahabai salafi buggers balooned by free petro money .

  • R. Khan
    Mar 30, 2011 - 11:25AM

    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.

  • Z. Akbar
    Apr 11, 2011 - 3:46PM


    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.

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