From the Editors
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Since King Abdullah returned to Riyadh last month, members of his ruling family have resorted to myriad political, economic, and personal measures to prevent public expressions of dissent against the Al Saud. The Ministry of Interior issued a statement warning that any act of public protest is prohibited in Saudi Arabia and punishable by law. The country’s senior ulema were quick to legitimize this criminalization of protest with religious justifications, reminding everyone that “conspiring” against the political leadership is an unIslamic act akin to conspiring against god. The ulema then issued an official memorandum requesting that preachers at mosques discuss the importance of loyalty to the Al Saud during Friday sermons and to discourage people from calling for or joining protests. Minister of Foreign Affairs Saud al-Faisal then held a press conference in which he threatened against any foreign interference-- mainly implying the “influence” of Iran-- and called for national dialogue and the importance of continuing the project of reform peacefully.
Reminiscent of his father, King Abdullah sent his representatives to every corner of the Kingdom in the last three weeks to garner support from tribal and business leaders, political families and power brokers, and youth representatives, to name a few. Some tribal leaders from the southern and eastern parts of the country—areas historically accused of having secessionist tendencies— came to the King last week to renew their allegiance to him in person. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also contacted all their retired personnel via telephone to secure their loyalty and that of their children and grandchildren. However, measures to mitigate potentially explosive tensions go beyond orthodox diplomacy and religio-legal maneuvers. According to a source in the Interior Ministry, hundreds of arrests have been made across the Kingdom in the last two weeks alone, all in relation to online organizing for popular protests that called for comprehensive reforms. In the beginning of the month, rumors were circulating that the founder of the Facebook page that called for a ‘day of rage’ on March 11th in Saudi Arabia was murdered in Riyadh. Although still unconfirmed, the rumor has succeeded in making people think twice about, if not completely deterring them from, getting involved in any sort of political organizing.
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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