Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in Qatif and the town of Awamiyah in Eastern Province, primarily calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination.
However, the demonstrations have turned into protest rallies against the Al Saud regime, especially since November 2011, when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in Eastern Province.
Interview with Fuad Ibrahim, author of “Shiites of Saudi Arabia”, to further discuss the issue.
This interview also provides the opinions of two additional guests: former US Intelligence officer, Bob Ayers and also Michael Maloof, former Pentagon official.
Q: Do you think that Saudi Arabia believes it is somewhat immune from this awakening that is happening in the Arab world and all this change? Why it is the people still feel they have to be in line with Saudi policies?
Ibrahim: Well I believe that the demonstrations in Eastern Province is not an exception. It is a part of like a movement going around the Middle East. So it is part of the Arab Spring and the people who are demonstrating and protesting in Eastern Province, they demand for legitimate rights, for legitimate demands and they just appeal to different segments of the people in the Middle East. So I do not believe the allegations of the regime that they are influenced by outside, they follow the dictates of foreign powers. These are nonsense and I think it is a genuine movement so it is not an exception. It is part of popular movement in the Arab world.
Q: Mr. Ibrahim, the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries and still the poverty line, we have statistics show some 22 percent of the Saudi population are in poverty. How do you look at this?
Ibrahim: Well I believe that there are grievances and the people are suffering from them. They are trying to articulate these grievances in different forms and unfortunately the Saudi regime is not positive to responding to these demands and still uses the same security option by using violence against all these peaceful protests.
Also I like to add to what my fellow guest has said about the American silence towards what is going on in Saudi Arabia. I believe that it has something to do with the broader regional crisis.
I think the United States gave a blind eye to the human rights violations in Saudi Arabia because they expect that the Saudi role in Syria to be influential and crucial towards the end of this year because the American administration cannot deeply [get] involved in the crisis until the end of this year.
I believe the American administration is committing very grave mistake ignoring what is going on in Saudi Arabia. We have 12 at least 11 martyrs [who] were shot by the Saudi security forces. Unfortunately US administration did not give a single word to condemn what happened or at least to express its concern about what is going on in Saudi Arabia.
Q: How about the income from selling oil and where is that going? We have a lot of population in poverty.
Ibrahim: As long as the Saudi regime offers a very generous flow of oil to the United States there is no reason for the US administration to abandon its support to this royal family without regard to it is a democratic regime or not. I think this is where the Saudis are now advancing their question towards the American political attitude towards what is going on in the region, why the double standard now is materializing when it comes to supporting revolution in Syria while giving a blind eye to the revolts in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Q: Mr. Ibrahim, it seems that most of the protests there was not able to break the silence, it seems to be mostly in the Eastern Province. Now those slogans seem to be nationalistic by the media especially in the Arab media, it seems to show it as ethnic or sectarian. Why is that?
Ibrahim: Well there is like an official tendency towards casting a sectarian flavor or color on what is going on in the Eastern Province. They do not want to acknowledge that there is a problem throughout the country.
I think there is variety of forms of protest in this country. I know the manifestation of this protest maybe could be seen in Eastern Province in form of demonstrations because other parts of the country like political traditions in terms of demonstrations, the techniques of oppositions and revolts. But we can see how other parts voice their protest in social media for instance. There is like a lot of campaigns going on, on Twitter and Facebook against the policy of the regime but unfortunately we do not expect the official media to cover the part of the story.
Q: Do you think the intellectuals have found their ground for protest through the Internet, perhaps social networking if they can have protests in their country?
Ibrahim: Maybe it is not time for talking about crystallize political movement within the social media because I am Twitter user. I can see every day there is a new campaign. There are so many Twitter users who express their critical views against the internal policies and against the regime. But unfortunately I think one day will come when the young generation will start to form their own organization and political movements and I always believe that what is going on in the social media one day will be in the streets.
Q: Do you think that the protests or the call for changes even reached the royal family itself? I have heard of Sara the daughter of Talal, one of the members of the royal family, how do you look at this?
Ibrahim: Well actually before I answer your question I think we need to remind ourselves of a petition was submitted in January 2003 to King Abdullah when he was crown prince. A number of reformers from different segments, from different ideological background presented a petition called “Vision for the Present and Future of the Country.” And this had nothing to do with the political religious issue.
Q: So it was all sides.
Ibrahim: Yes, it called for reforms and deep reforms, essential reforms like separation of powers and freedom.
Q: Just one quick question because we are running out of time, do you think that the tribal system of Saudi Arabia will also keep it as it is?
Ibrahim: Well I think there is an essential transformation of the society in the kingdom and the tribal system is fading away but we still have to say something about the essence of the Saudi state that still did not transform into a nation state. That is why the traditional and the primordial ties still exist.