Friday, February 4, 2011

The Arab Revolution's Effect on Saudis

The following is an essay written recently by my friend and fellow blogger, Saudi Woman. She is a modern well-educated Saudi woman whose insight into the culture and mindset of Saudi society is always of interest. The SaudiWoman Blog has been nominated for a 2011 Bloggie Weblog Award for Best Asian Blog. I would urge you to take the time to vote for her outstanding blog for this honor.

With what’s going on right now in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Tunis and Egypt, I get a lot of questions about how Saudis are taking it and what’s the reaction. The short answer is they are shocked and captivated but haven’t made up their minds about any of it.

The long answer is Saudi Arabia is a country where 40% of the population is under 14 years old, unemployment is rampant and the conservative religious approach is the key to the majority. These three ingredients are a dangerous mixture, and add to that the now available social media tools, and you have a bomb waiting for detonation. So why has nothing happened?

We have been faced with defeat over the last three generations. First it was with the Ottomans and I can’t tell you the countless times I’ve heard stories about how my great-grandparents generation faced off with the Turks in Qaseem. There are even walls still standing with bullet holes from then. Then my grandparents’ generation faced the creation of Israel. Every family knows a Palestinian refugee or had someone in their family killed or injured; my own grandfather was maimed in 1948 when Israeli forces bombed the hospital he was being treated at. Then my parents’ generation witnessed the fall of Jamal AbdulNaser’s high hopes and grand plans. After that every country in the region had its own version of dictatorship and people suppression evolve so that in the end you had different countries with different names but all sharing the same tactics and the same system. People have lost hope in being represented politically and have adapted and figured out other ways to move forward in life.

This is the context and the lenses through which our young people are watching what’s going on in the region. And this is why that the fact that there was an uprising is not as important as the aftermath of that uprising.

They are watching, though. All over the country, all these Saudis who rarely watch or read the news and their only interests in doing so are for more local social openness or conservativeness (depending on their background), are now carefully observing what’s going on in neighboring countries. Saudis who didn’t know what the channel number for AlJazeera News was on their receivers now have it saved on their favorites list. University and high school students are now watching the news and social media feeds in their study breaks instead of a rerun of Friends. It’s a new atmosphere. The thing lacking is analysis or a discussion on what it means for us.

The only tangible effect is more outspokenness in their criticism of how the Saudi government was ill-prepared for the Jeddah floods. In just three days from the first Friday after the floods to last Sunday, there were one hundred and ten opinion pieces in Saudi newspapers condemning what happened and criticizing how the government handled things. Also Shiekh Salman Al Ouda broadcast an unprecedented episode of his MBC show where he spoke about how the government must listen to Saudis' demands for more transparency and spoke highly of the movements in Tunis and Egypt. And then Ali Al Olayani, a popular TV presenter, also dedicated a frank and brave show where YouTube videos uploaded by citizens in Jeddah were shown. And the most recent were reports of protesters in Jeddah with some being arrested and there was even a video that was taken down a day later of the protest where you can see men and women marching down a Jeddah street.

We are only at the beginning and the only thing that has been determined is that Arabs are fed up and that we won’t back down.

To read more of Saudi Woman's thought provoking posts on important issues facing Saudi Arabia, here is the link to her blog.


  1. Thanks for sharing with us Susie! It's very interesting to read about different point of views than what we are used to hear in the Western media.

  2. I always laugh at all the books about Saudi being a time bomb waiting to happen from 20 years ago, but these recent events have gotten alot of KSA friends to wonder about change.

    They'll wait to see if Egypt and Tunis become better or worse I am sure, and then make their aim.

  3. It seems like freedom and stability in the Middle East is a dream for a lot of people. I hope it can come to pass.

  4. Great post. I'm really trying to figure out what it all means. Somehow I feel that what is happening in the Middle East will have worldwide ramifications.

  5. Thanks for your comments. We are witnessing history in the making. How it all plays out will make a major difference in the entire world.

  6. Awesome stuff. This is no where near a ground swell. Or the full revolt taking place in Tunisia or Egypt but obviously these are different situations.

  7. Awesome stuff. This is no where near a ground swell. Or the full revolt taking place in Tunisia or Egypt but obviously these are different situations.

  8. Every coin has two sides - it is very awesome to know that the U.S. has for 30 years supported financially and politically the Egyptian regime, ie. Mubarak. They also stay by the Saudi king and thus misregard human rights.
    Until today stability in these regions has overridden human rights, as well as democrasy.
    The future is yet to be seen. Let's hope there will be no more blood shed and the transition is as smooth as possible.

  9. Seems to me, these Churchill made-up nations with their fake royalty, were eventually going to erupt in violence and chaos. People can only be oppressed for so long. In this case it only took 6 decades.

  10. Bonjour princesse du désert toute mes salutations je regrette de m'exprimer en Français mais je te le dit dés fois que tu n'aurai rien compris au soulèvement actuel des Arabes ils veulent seulement se libérer de la dictature de l'oncle SAM et du sionisme vraiment il y a en marre que les ricains guide le monde musulman trop tirer sur une corde elle finis par cassée
    Salutations Susie

  11. This is a fascinating topic to explore. I too get questions all the time about the "Saudi take" on the traumatic events in Tunisia and Egypt but, with all due respect, it's not at all clear how Saudi Woman's essay has shed any light on the Kingdom's reaction or role in any of this.

    For example, she writes, "We have been faced with defeat over the last three generations," and then fails to provide any back up at all for the statement, using instead instances of wars or battles well beyond three generations. As near as I can tell, KSA has been involved directly in remarkably few wars or battles, much less defeats in the past three generations. In fact, you have to go back to the Saudi-Yemeni War ending in 1934 and then way back to the Ottoman-Saudi War of 1813-1818 (before there was even a unified kingdom).

    So the image of a kingdom supposedly facing a steady stream of defeat does not seem credible.

    In fact, the examples the writer brings forward are not even Saudi battles but Palestinian, Israeli and Egyptian. Of course this is not to say that these conflicts did not or do not affect KSA. But they are not conflicts supporting a statement about Saudi Arabia facing defeat over three generations.

    It appears we need to look deeper or further to see the context of Saudi reaction.

  12. You couldnt be more right!!