Protesters chant slogans and hold posters of prisoners during a protest in Qatif on March 9, 2011. The banner reads: "Peacefully, Peacefully," (Courtesy Reuters).
Recent demonstrations and violence in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province that left four people dead and nine others wounded raise the question: Is Saudi Arabia the next country that will encounter the wave of popular unrest sweeping the Arab world?
Already the Arab uprisings’ effects have been felt in Saudi Arabia. In February and March, soon after Mubarak’s overthrow in Egypt, Saudi Facebook activists began calling for a revolution and declared a “Day of Rage” for March 11, emulating the youth activists in Egypt and Tunisia. However, the “Day of Rage” fizzled out, and demonstrations were held only in the Eastern Province, home to Saudi’s restive Shia minority.
Since then, things have been relatively quiet, at least until recently. One reason is that unlike Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and Libya, which are technically republics, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy run by the Al Saud family. So far, the Arab monarchies have been better suited to absorb discontent. In many of the region’s monarchies, while the king maintains ultimate control, power is more diffuse and thus the top leaders are able to deflect some criticism. Monarchies have so far proven to have greater legitimacy in the eyes of their countrymen than have the faux-republics. That doesn’t mean that they are immune to unrest, as we have seen in Jordan and Bahrain, the latter though is anomalous in that a Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority. But they are better positioned to manage it. Read more »