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Saudi Arabia's Silent Protests

[Saudis protesting their overdue land grants at Shaqra' Municipality. Image taken from] [Saudis protesting their overdue land grants at Shaqra' Municipality. Image taken from]

Riyadh feels a little less stale since the Tunisian people toppled their dictator-president Zine El Abidine Bin Ali on 15 January 2011. In cafes, restaurants, and salons (majalis), friends and colleagues greet me with a smug smile, congratulations, and a ‘u’balna kulna (may we all be next). On my daily afternoon walks, I overhear Saudis of all ages and walks of life analyzing the events that led to the overthrow of the Tunisian regime. Everywhere I go, people are hypothesizing on whether the same could happen to “them,” referring to the possibility of a Saudi Arabia not headed by the Al Sauds. Although most concur that it is highly unlikely, they are nonetheless more convinced than ever of the power of the people to bring about change. They know that they can no longer sit back and wait for their government to hand them their basic political, economic, and to some extent, even human rights.

It is not surprising that Saudis are jumping on the bandwagon of optimism which has swept the Arab world in the last two weeks. That they are expressing their discontent and criticism of the Saudi regime in public spaces, however, is. Last week, several “gatherings” (tajamu’at) took place at government institutions in several Saudi cities. Groups of seventy to one hundred Saudi men (no exact numbers are available) peacefully stood in front of different municipalities as well as the ministries of Education and Labor. The men were silently protesting their deteriorating living conditions, rising unemployment (in one of the strongest economies in the world), and increasingly corrupt and stagnant bureaucracy. These public protests have received little press coverage, but the fact that they have occurred for several days speaks volumes as to the increasing willingness of Saudi citizens to challenge the Saudi regime.

This article is now featured in Jadaliyya's edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.


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4 comments for "Saudi Arabia's Silent Protests"


Another great and informative piece by Khuloud. The pieces sheds light on the situation inside Saudia Arabia in light of the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt. It also gives information on what is going on in the Saudi society.

Hayat wrote on January 29, 2011 at 03:45 AM

Informative article, saudi society is so closed in on itself we rarely ever read about it in the news. Good to know they re not all zombies of the regime. May all these wretched arab dictators go to hell!

Maha wrote on January 30, 2011 at 03:23 PM

Time for those in Saudi Arabia to stand up and stop being oppressed by the golden spoon-fed bankers of the west. Take no more corruptive American money!

Dan wrote on February 22, 2011 at 01:21 AM

Good news! Finally things are changing... we all should follow the example of Egipt. Its time for free democracy and equal rights. The Saudi Arabian people should fight for their rights and dictators should share the oil money with the citizens! Go ahead, its the right moment!

jorge free democracy wrote on March 11, 2011 at 08:57 PM

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