‘Frustration among Saudis has deep roots’


King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

From Boston Review:

About two weeks after the failed mass protests, Chas Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, gave a lecture at the Asia Business Forum in Riyadh.

He unequivocally asserted that there is no great power other than the United States capable of defending the Gulf. He called the Bahraini protesters an “unruly mob” and applauded the Saudis for their quick response to the Iranian challenge. As a retired diplomat, he does not represent official American views. But having seen that the United States could not save Mubarak once popular protest was in full swing, Saudi leaders took heart in Freeman’s commitment to the status quo in Bahrain.

So far Washington has remained silent on political reform in Saudi Arabia and maintained its special relationship with its most important regional ally. But should pressure start coming from the West, the Saudi regime knows how to exploit its allies’ weak spots: fear of terrorism and an insatiable appetite for oil and military contracts. The Bahraini episode, in which the West stood idle as the Saudis overran protesters, demonstrated clearly that the United States, Britain, France, and other Western countries still prefer security to democracy in oil-rich regions. After Bahrain, there can be no doubt of the hypocrisy of these liberal democracies. Authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia’s thrive on it.

For the moment, the Saudi regime has avoided real turbulence. Religious bans on demonstrations, anti-Shia sectarianism, heavy policing, and economic rewards effectively halted the momentum toward mass protest. Digital activism will continue to provide an outlet to a population denied basic freedom. But with popular unrest largely under wraps and the West silent, the regime faces no threat in the short term.

“No Saudi Spring”, Madawi Al-Rasheed, The Boston Review