The recent political upheaval that has been taking place in the Arab world has so far led to the collapse of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. There are two other ones on their way out, the Libyan and the Yemeni regimes. Other regimes, such as the ones in Bahrain, Oman, morocco and Jordan, where the protestors have been calling for (among other things) constitutional monarchy to limit the abusive authorities of the kings in their counties and the election of prime ministers instead of the kings appointing them. Other Arab states that are experiencing opposition from their populations include Algeria, Sudan, Syria and Iraq, where the public is demanding political reforms and an end to corruption. In response to the protests, several states, such as Kuwait, Syria and Saudi Arabia, have begun to announce financial aid to their populations to ease the burden of the cost of living.
Upon his return from the U.S. after medical treatment that kept him away for several months, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced a generous and lavish $36 billion to be spend on his subjects to prevent and protect the kingdom from the spreading revolts that have been taking place in Arab states.
The benefit announced by the king includes a 15% pay increase for state employees, housing assistance, financial assistance to the unemployed and more funds to students studying abroad in addition to projects to ease the unemployment problems. At the same time, the Minister of Interior issued a formal statement announcing that government law prohibits all sorts of demonstrations because they contradict Islamic Sharia Law and the values and traditions of Saudi Arabian society. He continued to say that police were “authorized by law to take all measures needed against those who will violate the law”.
In addition to the formal government prohibition of public protest, the Saudi religious hierarchy, which consists of 19 religious leaders, prohibited public protests or anything posing any challenge to the Absolute Monarch.
This reflects that Saudi Arabian political structure rests on two sources. The first is the Saudi royal family, which is in full control of political power. The country is run by an absolute monarchy. No organized political parties are permitted to be created in Saudi Arabia. The only free election that the government permitted was in 2005. They were for municipal representatives with limited democratic rules.
The second source of authority rests in the hands of the Wahabi Islamic religious leaders whose Sunni interpretation of Islam is the most conservative among the other schools of Islamic thought. They play a very influential role in Saudi Arabia, which is considered among the leading states in the Muslim world. The country is viewed as the birthplace of Islam.
Recently a group of young Saudis sent a letter to King Abdullah through Facebook, requesting a change in the governmental structure and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. They also asked for a change in the political, economic and judicial structure of the government, in addition to the establishment of democratic institutions to protect individual human rights and freedom of expression. These demands were reflected in 14 points in the letter that was signed by 70 young activists.
The group called for a nationwide protest movement on March 11, 2011. Another group made a Facebook page titled “The Saudi Revolution on March 20th” demanded a constitutional monarchy and free parliamentary elections. Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, issued a statement in which he stated that the best approach to solve problems is only through discussion. In my judgment, Saudi Arabia will be the last Arab state to initiate any significant reforms.
King Abdullah, who is 86 years old and in poor health, is viewed as liberal compared to those who are in line to assume the kingship position. Some of the reforms that Abdullah initiated were met with resistance from the Wahabi religious leadership. The second in line after King Abdullah is Prince Sultan, the defense Minister, who is 86 years old and in poor health. Third in line is Prince Nayef, the Minister of Interior who is 77 years old and a very conservative and tough individual and well known for anti-reforms.