March 7, 2011 Analyst Kamran Bokhari examines the measures being taken by Saudi Arabiato ensure that it does not fall victim to the spreading regional unrest.
Ever since the toppling of the Tunisian president in early January, Saudi Arabia has been using its resources to make sure that other states within the region, particularly Bahrain and Yemen that border Saudi Arabia, do not go the way of either Tunisia or Egypt. In recent days, however, there is evidence to suggest thatSaudi Arabia is much more concerned about the home front and has been engaged in a variety of measures to deal with a potential risk of unrest within the kingdom.
Over the past several days, the Saudi kingdom has engaged in a variety of measures to try and prevent the kind of uprising that we’ve seen in other Arab countries. These measures include the arrest and release of a Shia cleric, the banning of public demonstrations, and statements from the religious establishment and the Consultative Council basically telling the people that any idea of public uprisings will be detrimental to the health of the country. Therefore, it appears the Saudis are moving along several fronts to try and keep the nascent unrest in the kingdom within check.
The Saudis fear that the Shia unrest in Eastern province as well as calls by relatively reform-minded individuals and groups in the northwestern Hijaz region could complement one another. Because of the dynamic, the Saudis are having to address the situation in a complex matter. There is evidence to suggest that the kingdom in the coming days might engage in some sort of preemptive measures toward reforms. There was an op-ed published by prominent lawyer and columnist in the country’s largest English-language daily, Arab News, a few days ago. It was a letter to the king essentially heaping praise on the monarch for his efforts toward reform in recent years and also calling on him to further that process and engage in additional reforms that are needed in order to maintain stability within the kingdom. Now, a letter like that is not going to be published unless there was a nod and a green light from within official Riyadh.
Ultimately, the Saudis would like to be able to engage in social reforms because they see them as strengthening the hand of the kingdom. The problem with social reforms is that it pits a variety of forces against one another. The conservatives, who been a key pillar of stability within the kingdom, oppose any reforms that open up society and the reformers, on the other hand, are pressing for it. Meanwhile, in between you have the Shiite minority that is trying to enhance its status within the kingdom, and then of course the Saudis are concerned that any reforms should not allow Iran to exploit the situation to its advantage.