Saturday, March 12, 2011

Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series: Saudi Arabia

The protests in Saudi Arabia kicked off on January 21, 2011.
See the whole Middle East/African Revolution/Protest Series.
Saudi Arabia comes next in chronological order. This country has stood out to me in news reports because it's government is controlled by Sunnis, who are the overwhelming majority in Saudi Arabia. This is different from other countries that are controlled by a Sunni minority or controlled by a Shiite majority. These differences are part of the source of tension between Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.

Basic History
Saudi Arabia's official name is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Geographically, Saudi Arabia is located on the Arab Peninsula. Important bordering countries include: Jordan, Oman, Iraq, and Yemen. The capital is Riyadh. The population is estimated at 27.1 million people. The language is Arabic, though English is also spoken there.

Saudi Arabia's most recent leader is King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz. The Saudi government is setup as an absolute monarchy, and the king must comply with Sharia law and the Qur'an. The king must be chose from among the sons and grandsons of the the first king, Abdul Aziz al Saud. The king is also the Prime Minister and presides over the Council of Ministers. The country is effectively ruled by the royal family, which includes at least 7000 members, some more prominent than others.

In terms of  independence, the modern state of Saudi Arabia was created in 1932. There is a colorful history that includes the al Saud house (the rulers of the country). The ultimate independence that resulted in the Saudi Arabia that exists today came from the Ottoman empire that had various versions of control over the years.

Saudi Arabia is seen as particularly corrupt because of the way their ministries are setup. The princes (especially the descendants of King Abdul Aziz) are the leaders of most the Ministries. They have a habit of their personal wealth commingling with the monies of their respective Ministries.

Saudi Arabia also is the home of the two holiest places in Islam, Mecca and Medina. They also hold the world's largest oil reserve. These two things have a huge affect on the country's culture, economy, and human rights issues. An especially large problem is the terrorism committed worldwide being the work of Saudi nationals.

The Protests
The main causes cited as the reasons for the protests include: poor infrastructure and prisoners being held without trial.

The Saudi protests kicked off on January 21st when a 65 year old man died after setting himself on fire. This is considered the kingdom's first self-immolation. Then there was a flood in the city of Jeddah, which highlighted the poor infrastructure. There were protests on January 29th for this reason.

On February 10th, the Umma Islamic Party was formed. The main purpose of this opposition party, the first Saudi political party since the 1990s, is to demand to end of the absolute monarchy. A week a later, all the founding members of the party were arrested.

Also during this time, there were protests held in a mainly Shi'a (that's the Shiite people) town because three political prisoners had been held since a protest in March of 2009. The three prisoners were released on February 20th. After this, there were more protests in other locations for the release of other political prisoners.

The protests have largely been about governmental reforms and inclusion of the Saudi people in dialogues and decisions for the country. In March, people protested against prisoners being held without trial. The number of protesters has been relatively small compared with the size of the protests in other countries. The protesters were arrested and responded to with force. Protesting is expressly banned in Saudi Arabia.

March 11th was organized as a Day of Rage for Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Libya. By this point, the protests have expanded to include several hundred people. The cities that have seen protests so far include: Qatif, Hofuf, al-Amawiyah, Riyadh, and Jeddah. There has been increasingly heavy police presence in these areas.

The next big protest called for on the social media site Facebook is set for March 20th. Some of the protesters have grown to the point of calling for the ouster of the regime, but there is no telling how this particular story will end.

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