March 11, 2011
As unrest escalated across the Middle East, activists in Saudi Arabia demanded a political voice as well. Rather than promises of democracy, they got a $36 billion handout and a slap down from Islamic clerics.
Saudi academics, writers and representatives of the minority Shiite Muslim population called on King Abdullah, the sixth monarch in the Arab world’s largest economy, to move the country toward a constitutional monarchy. Anti-government demonstrators are advocating a “Day of Rage” today, and police in anti-riot vehicles patrolled in central Riyadh, the capital, with checkpoints set up around the Al-Rajhi mosque.
“Demands for political reform will inevitably increase in the kingdom as democracy takes root in the region,” said Thomas Hegghammer, a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment in Oslo and author of “Jihad in Saudi Arabia.” “If the regime does nothing, tension will grow between conservative and progressive factions.”
More than two months of protests have rocked the Middle East and North Africa as citizens demand civil rights, higher living standards and the ouster of entrenched autocratic regimes. In Bahrain, a Saudi neighbor and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, mainly Shiite protesters are pressing their demands for free elections and a constitutional monarchy.