A Petition to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: Is Saudi Arabia Next?


King Abdullah.jpg
This is a guest note by Salman Al-Rashid, a Master’s student at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and an intern with the New America Foundation’s Middle East Task Force.
In early January The New York Times reported that the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, a human rights group in Saudi Arabia, petitioned King Abdullah to remove Prince Nayef from his post as interior minister. Given that popular uprisings calling for reform and leadership change are sweeping through the region, might this letter represent a tectonic shift in Saudi domestic discourse that spells trouble for the House of Saud? Don’t bet on it.
Nayef, a staunch conservative and active political figure, took over as interior minister in 1975. He oversees internal security matters and has ruthlessly combated terrorists in the kingdom. Nayef also serves as Second Deputy Prime Minister, a position that allows him to influence economic and political policies in the kingdom.
The letter, which calls for Nayef to be prosecuted, maintains that the Interior Ministry under Nayef has instituted policies that exacerbate extremism and foster violence in the kingdom. Despite reports that the letter was emailed to the Associated Press in Cairo, no news source has published the full text of the petition. The AP does say that the letter argues that the Interior Ministry exhibits less tolerance for those who seek to rectify corruption and injustice and thus actively restricts the rights of Saudi citizens.
While the contents of the letter remain shrouded in mystery, recent reports of civil rights abuses in the kingdom may corroborate the petition’s general claims about the ministry. Whether or not the accusations leveled against Nayef have merit, it is safe to say that Abdullah will not fire his powerful half-brother, who also happens to be second in line to the Saudi throne. Nonetheless, the petition calls attention to a significant, albeit gradual, change in Saudi political discourse.
In the past no one in Saudi Arabia would have dared evoke political and socioeconomic grievances to call for the removal of a senior, powerful figure in the House of Saud. But Abdullah has solidified his reputation as a monarch responsive to the demands of his subjects, and Saudis are more and more inclined to voice their complaints. In the past five years, Abdullah has addressed some of the concerns of several marginalized elements of Saudi society, which include Shiites, women and liberals.
Take the example of Shiites. In 2008 Shiites in Saudi Arabia’s southwestern province of Narjan complained that their governor, Prince Mish’al, sanctioned widespread discrimination against them in terms of education, state funding, and housing. He even sought to dislocate them by encouraging Sunni Yemenis to settle in the region. Abdullah responded by relieving the governor of his duties.
In the Nayef case, a dissatisfied, liberal segment of Saudi society is similarly evoking a notion of government accountability to demand the removal of a government official, one Saudi liberals clearly see as an enemy in the gradual process of liberalization initiated by Abdullah.
Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, liberalization is happening in Saudi Arabia.
Abdullah’s six economic cities currently under construction in different regions of the kingdom seek a confluence of economic and social liberalization, and women will soon be allowed to argue cases in court and perhaps vote in the next round of municipal elections. After a prominent member of the Council of Senior Clerics, Sheikh Saad al-Shithri, complained that the newly opened King Abdullah University of Science and Technology would lead to the mixing of the sexes and threaten the very fabric of Saudi society, Abdullah gave him the governor-of-Narjan treatment.
The call for Nayef’s removal and prosecution, however, is significant because Nayef is not an imam or regional governor. He is the head of Saudi Arabia’s most important ministry and commands the loyalty of the secret police, which preserves domestic order and constantly thwarts terrorist threats against civilian and economic infrastructure. He enjoys cozy relations with the religious establishment. If Abdullah were to remove Nayef, would other ministers be spared? Would internal security disintegrate? Would liberals and conservatives alike be galvanized?
The petition is interesting in the context of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, in which protesters toppled regimes that they deemed stagnant, inadequate, and greedy. Tunisians who took to the streets believed that Tunisian President Zine Abidine Ben Ali and his web of corrupt cronies administered the country in a way that did not accord with their own vision of a just and righteous order. Scores of Egyptians with a host of economic and political grievances ousted the seemingly invulnerable Mubarak police state.
Middle East experts and commentators warned and continue to warn that the earthquake emanating from Carthage may eventually topple other Arab regimes. At last, the ultimate Arab paradox of political stagnation combined with drastic socioeconomic change will be resolved. At last, the Arab palace will reflect the interests of the Arab street.
What of Saudi palace and Saudi street? For now the open-minded Abdullah seems to have mastered the tricky balancing act of accommodating both religious conservatives and liberal voices. Moreover, continued oil revenue affords Abdullah the luxury to offer generous economic packages that insulate the royal family from the kind of unrest sweeping through other states.
It is tempting to see parallels between the narrative of the pre-revolutionary crisis state and Saudi Arabia today by arguing that simmering tensions hovering under the guise of a stable autocratic order will explode to the surface. But one should not project Tunis or Cairo onto Riyadh just yet.
A man in southwestern Saudi Arabia recently engaged in a Tunisian-style self-immolation, but he was a Mauritanian who was frustrated that he could not attain Saudi citizenship. In a recent blog-post, Robert Dreyfuss suggests that a recent protest, a petition to create a political party, and social networking buzz in the kingdom collectively spells trouble for the establishment.
In the protest that Dreyfuss refers to, participants sought improvements to Saudi infrastructure following floods from a rare rainstorm. The kingdom quickly and quietly cracked down on the ten Islamic scholars who formed the Umma Islamic Party. Sure, Saudis are joining Facebook groups that call for political reform, but this social networking activity is occurring in a different, less tenuous context that is devoid of the impetus to mobilize and demand immediate change.
In the meantime, Nayef will sit comfortably in his office in the heavily fortified Ministry of Interior in Riyadh. He will continue to obsess over domestic security, even at the expense of individual freedom and civil rights. And if the Saudi street decides to rise up, he will be the person the king calls upon to restore order.
— Salman Al-Rashid


10 comments on “A Petition to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: Is Saudi Arabia Next?

  1. questions says:

    Another Konczal:
    W/ video of the vote, and voiced concerns about open meetings laws.


  2. rc says:

    Well, it’s going to pop one day. No amount of white paint can hide the rust and fundamental structural rigidity in the Arabian Gulf system being enforced by the Saudi Family Inc.
    2011? … it’s more like 14 century Spain under a Pope!
    Anyway, this little interview in a far away place may be of some interest — the specific on topic comments towards the end about Saudi links with French nuclear technology companies puts a very dark cloud over the whole ME stability.

    “How dangerous is a nuclear Iran, even if it never detonates a weapon? A new film titled: ‘Iranium’ tracks the development of Iran’s nuclear capabilities…. beginning with the Islamic Revolution of 1979 to the ideology installed by the Supreme Leader today.”
    Chet Nagel (previously attached to the International Security Affairs Department at the Pentagon.) — http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/stories/2011/3160894.htm


  3. questions says:

    “The primary, most enduring complaint of the opponents of the ACA has been that the law is deathly bad for small business.
    Apparently, small businesses, and their employees, do not agree.
    The next argument has been that the PPACA is a job killer.
    If these small businesses found the new law to be so onerous, why have so many of them voluntarily taken advantage of the benefits provided in the law to give their employees these benefits? They were not mandated to do so. And to the extent that the coming mandate obligations might figure into their thinking, would you not imagine they would wait until 2014 to make a move as the rules do not go into effect until that time?
    Of course, there is the nagging banter as to how Obamacare is leading us down the road to socialism.
    Let it go, folks.
    Private market insurance companies are experiencing significant growth because of a tax break provided by the PPACA. I may have missed the day this was discussed in economics class, but I


  4. questions says:

    And here, also h/t to Mark Thoma, is a link to the Bloomberg poll
    That reminds us that the best place to cut the budget is the 47% or whatever it is that goes to foreign aid!!!!! Ok, so it’s 1%, but hey, we can still balance everything that way!
    The underlying question here isn’t really what percentage of people say in a poll what their priorities are, and we should really drill on this point.
    The real issue is how will people vote given a set of policies as faits accomplis? If aid to the needy is cut, will people suddenly shift to the dems even though they poll against such cuts?
    Intensity matters far more, and not just polling intensity as in “I am seriously, like totally, like OMG or ZOMG, against these cuts. I’d rather be Rick-rolled than live in a society in which….” The real question is whether or not you’ll remember this intensity in the polling booth or at the kitchen table, and whether or not this polling intensity will help with candidate recruitment. If the dems can’t field decent, telegenic, smart candidates against the TeaParty faction, the dems are not going to win.
    Nevermind Citizens United, the CoC or the Kochsters, recruitment matters significantly. An attractive dem who can vibrate at the same frequency as the electorate, if indeed these polls tell any kind of accurate story, such a dem can beat the TeaParty.
    We just don’t really know about intensity, memory, the state of the economy, more horrific and defining moments of history, or celebratory and joyous defining moments that might occur.
    But methinks that Walker overplayed, that Chris(tie) is overplaying, that the tantrums of the TeaParty are really not going to serve them well. Mehopesy changey.


  5. questions says:

    Just to debunk a Fox/AEI meme I’ve seen in several places this morning….
    No, indeed, it is not the case that more than 1/3 of all wages and salaries was paid as transfer payments…..
    Amazing how these things pop up everywhere all at once.
    Also amazing is the level of gloating in the WaPo and ChiTrib comment sections over Walker’s bill-splitting. There are either 3 prolific trolls or there is some deep class anger at the idea that anyone who isn’t a billionaire sucking up money in fees of various sorts deserves anything at all.
    (Yves Smith has noted trolls, or more properly, sock puppets, on her site — one IP address, many names.)
    It’s really something to see how happy we are to wipe our backsides with Kochpaper and make them billionaires, and how unwilling we are to educate our society’s children and make the teachers be mid-5-figure-aires. 50-75 grand in total compensation is just not a vast sum of money for holding a BA or BS, an MA or MS or M.Ed. or whatever, to work in a germ pit, to deal with parents and, OMG 3rd graders or 13 year olds (preferably not the same group). It’s not too much money for the hours of grading, of emotional connection, of shushing, of dealing with kids with ISSUES, of dealing with violence, changing curricular demands, continuing education demands, paying out for supplies and food for kids without, for all the organizational and behavioral work that goes in to running a classroom FULL of kids (class sizes are going to jump in the near term).
    And somehow, we’d prefer to pay for our butts and our telecom needs, but not invest in our future doctors, engineers, and non-criminal fellow tax payers. It’s funny/sad/tragic/short-sighted/dumbfuck/full of bad envy and low information/selfish/anti-social/and did I mention dumbfuck?
    There is such rage over these salaries, as if the preference were, I don’t know, to outsource all teaching to illegal aliens who don’t know English — WAIT A MINUTE — we actually do this with nannies! So THAT’S the plan!
    Seriously, though, the triumphalism that surrounds Walker’s procedural mess — (it might all be a violation of open meeting and fiscal effect policies — maybe they saved money on Republican lawyers and got bad advice, or maybe they’re just the kind of Republicans Brad DeLong would have us not support in our social groups!) — coupled with the triumphalism in Chris(t) Christ(ie) seems to set a very odd tone in American politics right now.
    The Republicans dominated the national political scene for years, ran the place down, and now are pissed beyond belief that anyone besides a billionaire has a penny left.
    Here’s hoping that labor really does see it has nothing to lose but its chains (not entirely, but figuratively) and we get some solid electoral activity in WI for the April court elections and the recall elections and in Nov. 2012. The dems need to stop being non-voting tantrum-having puritanical hold outs.
    And Arne Duncan needs a new job. Something about mosquito nets occurs to me!


  6. questions says:

    A must-read on how to organize a society, reform education, make Saudi Arabia work better, repair your car, and make an excellent cream sauce!
    Ok, maybe it won’t do all of that, but it will do some!
    A study shows that paying teachers merit bonuses is an epic fail (this point has been shown before), AND that if a school wins some kind of bonus for test scores, the teachers divvy up the money equally.
    Teachers are team players who want the best for their students ALREADY. They don’t need incentives to do things, they already do them.
    Why does anyone go in to teaching? Ask Plato! It’s like ruling — you don’t do it for the money. Insofar as you’re a money-maker, you’re not a doctor or a teacher or a ruler, you’re a money-maker. When you’re a teacher or a ruler, then you don’t worry about money, you don’t want money, you want what’s best for the object of your craft.
    Even shepherds, insofar as they are shepherds, want what’s good for their sheep.
    What makes a teacher’s life work? Care for the students, classroom autonomy, respect, physical safety, respect, respect, respect, and a principal and school board and city that covers your back.
    What do teachers get? Wisconsin, instead. Bill Gates. Arne Duncan.
    Is it any wonder that all a businessman can think of is MONEY? The billionaire boys’ club loves money so fucking much that not a single one of them can imagine being motivated by the good, by the good of one’s charges, by duty and respect, by the worthiness of the task at hand and not at all by excessive money.
    Enough to live on, enough to attract able people, and not so much as to make money the centerpiece of the teaching life.
    And as for the house of Saud, rule for the good of your people’s houses, not for the good of your own. Your Platonic souls depend on it, your choices depend on it, and as I’ve noted before, your dinner depends on it. You will eat your children much as Bernie Madoff did. Much as our current education policy will have us do by cramming some 60 Detroit kids into one room, thus guaranteeing the drop out rate will stay high and “save” money in the short run. But we will devour each other in our effort to avoid devouring each other.
    Greek tragedy repeats and repeats and repeats.
    The Republic might well be Plato’s greatest, and only undestroyed, tragedy.


  7. questions says:

    No, Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans are next:
    They stripped the budget proposals out, passed a restriction on collective bargaining out of committee and passed it on the floor.
    Possible violation of open meetings laws.
    Certain violation of street politics and “optics”.
    Here’s hoping this motivates Dems across the country.
    It’d be nice for tactics like this to be consigned to the ash heap of history. And it’d be nice if the Republicans really blew it. I hold out some hope for memories to hold long enough to deal with Walker in Nov. when they start gathering signatures, and in Jan when they can do the recall election.
    A big January Wisconsin dem victory might help with 2 the 2012 primary season, and the Nov. elections.
    On the other hand, Walker et al are banking on short American memories.
    There’s this from the Monkeycage:
    With the legislative rules in Wisc:
    “Here is Joint Rule 3 (1):
    In all cases of disagreement between the senate and assembly on amendments, adopted by either house to a bill or joint resolution passed by the other house, a committee of conference consisting of 3 members from each house may be requested by either house, and the other house shall appoint a similar committee. At least one member from each house shall be a member of the minority party.”
    I don’t think any Dems participated, but maybe this doesn’t even cover the parliamentary move in WI — if they just passed a whole new bill without the higher quorum number, maybe it’s not really a “disagreement on amendments” at this point. The open meetings issue might be a better one for the lawyers and parliamentarians to duke it out on. Wonder if there are grounds for impeachment or censure floating around. Hope someone is looking into out-maneuvering the maneuvers. There’s always recall, though.
    And this from TPM:
    And a TPM reader notes that it’s not just budget bills, but any bill with budget implications that needs the higher quorum. Where’s a parliamentarian when you need one?!
    Gingrich. Loves. His. Country. Among. Other. Things. (Women.) Wow.
    Egypt. Another wow. Revolutions are uncertain things, of course, but what they had was certainly bad. Spasms of religious violence are bad, too.
    “Street battles broke out after Copts set up roadblocks in major arteries to protest the destruction of one of their churches. Security is scant in this metropolis of 18 million, where the military-controlled government is still groping to find a way to tamp down crime with no functioning police force.
    Although clashes between Muslims and Christians are not new in Egypt, they often take place far from the capital. That the overnight violence continued for hours near the heart of Cairo is bound to add to concerns among Christians that weeks of tumult in Egypt have left them particularly vulnerable in a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim.
    The prospect that political Islamists might gain strength in Egypt is seen among Copts as particularly worrying, after three decades in which many had come to regard Mubarak’s secular regime as a kind of protector. ”
    Arne speaks:
    “”No Child Left Behind is broken, and we need to fix it now,” Duncan said in testimony prepared for an afternoon appearance before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “This law has created a thousand ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed. We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible and focused on the schools and students most at risk.”
    Duncan said that the administration estimates 82 percent of schools are at risk of failing to meet education goals this year, up from 37 percent last year. ”
    Arne has no plan, though. Success won’t come from more testing, more “accountability”, more “TFA” or “value added” crapola.
    NCLB failing school labels were clearly a disaster before they passed. 2014, 100% passing regardless of language spoken or disability status or family situation or anything else — OR ELSE. Yeah, right. So clearly this has to go. But Duncan’s direction is not the right way.
    I would actually characterize this differently — a Republican with a graduate degree is still ill-educated (but I’d be channeling Brad DeLong — friends don’t let friends vote Republican. Ever.)


  8. DonS says:

    Hahahahahaha . . .
    Stimulus program for the defense industry: Israel would feel better if it had a 20 billion dollar military buildup “invested” in by, who else, Uncle Friggin Sugar.
    No joke, the shakedown artist-in-chief, said it with a straight face. The AIPAC zombie Congress will no doubt take this seriously, or maybe, as an opening gambit from the Israeli government, ever ready to humiliate and insult the Administration, the Congress may think only 10, or maybe 15 billion is affordable in this time of “tight budgets”. Doncha know.


  9. JohnH says:

    Isn’t the imminent Saudi royal succession a greater threat to the sustainability of the regime than unarmed Saudi citizens?


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