Saudis may not be massing on the streets like others in the Middle East, but their petitions and complaints are momentous
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 1 March 2011
"With Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak gone, Muammar Gaddafi teetering on the brink in Libya and Arab leaders everywhere nervously reassessing their survival prospects, there has never been a more auspicious time for people across the region to demand their rights. Even in Saudi Arabia people are stirring.
Their actions are not the sort that attract much attention from the world's media, and especially not the TV cameras, but in a Saudi context they are momentous......
King Abdullah, meanwhile, is plainly apprehensive. His response so far has been to dig deep into his – or the state's – pockets (in Saudi Arabia there isn't really much distinction between the two). Since returning from medical treatment abroad he has splashed out $36bn in the hope of heading off unrest, with promises of a further $400bn (£245bn) over the next four years for education, infrastructure and healthcare.
A spoof news item posted on the internet on Sunday said King Abdullah was also offering $150bn in cash to buy out Facebook (and presumably close it down) "in order to end the Arab revolt". Although the source of the story – LOL News – should have given a clue that it was just a joke, the tale was sufficiently plausible for the Saudi government to issue a straight-faced official denial.
Throwing money around is the customary way for oil-rich Gulf potentates to deal with a problem. That is not a long-term solution and, even as a palliative, all the signs suggest it is becoming less and less effective.
It may be enough to placate some disaffected Saudis, as in the past, but many others are saying money is not the issue: they want real change. The question is whether that message will get through to King Abdullah without mass protests on the streets."