Friday, March 11, 2011

On Revolutions, Saudi, and What Might Happen

Bluntly put, my opinion is worthless. After all, I'm just another spectator of the upheaval going on in Middle East countries. I merely happen to be closer to the epicenter than most people I know, right here at home in Saudi Arabia - where the latest chapter of the ongoing Arab revolution was supposed to happen.

Today, March 11, there was a fair amount of hysteria going on within and without the country about it. The story was that there was going to be a 'Day of Rage', beginning from after the Friday prayers - familiar to those who've been keeping up with Arab protests as a strategy to get as many people together as possible, the prayers being mandatory for every Muslim male to attend. Family members went today, and they came back with nothing but a tale of lots of police cars around the perceived 'danger zone' (interspersed with over-excited exaggerations from the younger one, of course), and nothing else.

I wasn't surprised.

In clear terms, I don't think a revolution in Saudi at this point is going to work. For one, King Abdullah is loved by the people. He recently returned from a lengthy recuperation from a back injury abroad, which brought on a fierce wave of patriotic feeling in most Saudis. I was out late on the day the King returned, and I was entertained at a long stoplight (with a foreign driver, a stranger to me, at the wheel, of course) by the sight of at least thirty cars full of young guys - who don't really need an excuse to coast the streets waving flags and whooping - doing just that. Bellowing the national anthem (off-key, may I add) as though the Saudi national team had just won a match. It's a superficial display of affection, like the BBM I got with the poetic "People burn themselves in protest, but we burn on the inside with love for our king", but genuine. Revolution will happen, if ever, after the king dies, but not before.

In general, the Saudi people are content. Yes, there are ludicrous violations of human rights; women are treated scandalously; rampant corruption exists unbridled, and there are scores of examples to set for each of these and many other offenses, a sea of details I don't need to dip my toe in at the moment. But Saudis (well, admittedly I've mostly talked to schoolgirls) are mostly of the opinion that the notion of protesting is foreign. That Shias, that Iran, that general malcontents - not us, not real Saudis - are instigating the unrest is the general consensus.

Helping is the manipulation of religion the Saudi government has going on - has had going on for quite a while - justifying itself. In one of my religious subjects last term, my book said that it was haram or unlawful to challenge the leader, the one in position - even if that leader is unfair/committing sins/being generally awful. This strikes a nerve with me, because in my opinion the great Muslim stagnation of the last centuries was caused in part by ineffectual, unfit, unchallenged rulers who used religion much as modern dictators have.

All in all, though, I just hope for the best. Dialogue, as the foreign minister said, can indeed solve much of Saudi Arabia's problems - if the government will heed the voices of its people and the warning of the fates of dictators past (and recent). Who'd have imagined, several months ago, that Mubarak and Ben Ali would be gone, Gaddafi and others teetering precariously on the same yawning chasm? Perhaps a few months further and we will be looking back in deeper skepticism, wondering at how we were in March!

So let us pray that God will lead us all out of this as a better, improved, more dynamic Saudi Arabia; as, indeed, I pray for the entirety of the Middle East.