Rattled by the unprecedented and contagious revolts befalling Arab despots around them, the Saudi monarchy has realized that bribery is not enough to placate their disenfranchised citizens. The notorious Saudi Minister of Interior, Prince Naif, issued a stern warning against any public demonstration by anyone at anytime in the repressive desert kingdom. As usual, his royal warning was immediately echoed by the top religious clerics including the Saudi Mufti, Al-Ashaikh. According to the Imam of Prophet Mohammed’s Mosque in Madinah, Al-Hudaifi, “Laws and regulations in the Kingdom totally prohibit all kinds of demonstrations, marches and sit-in protests as well as calling for them as they go against the principles of Shariah and Saudi customs and traditions… There is no place for chaotic demonstrations in this country of monotheism because Shariah is the dominant force in this country.”* This is the first time the religious establishment has unequivocally asserted that Islam is against individual liberty and freedom of expression. This means that as long as the Quran is the country’s constitution and the Shariah is its law, there can be neither political participation nor personal freedom.
Given the sweeping Arab uprisings against their autocratic ruling elites, it is unlikely that the Saudi royals will be spared. Their people have suffered more from social, political, economic, religious, gender, and ethnic oppression than any other Arab society. Segments of Saudi society have expressed displeasure with the ruling family since the 1950s, a time when the oil industry’s maltreated employees conducted massive demonstrations in Eastern Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi ruling family has been able to survive and thrive until now because Western countries, especially the United States, are committed to protect it from external and internal threats. Attempts to protect Saudi Arabia from external threats include Egypt’s 1964 invasion across the Southern Saudi border and Saddam Hussein’s assault on Kuwait and subsequent march into the shared Saudi-Kuwait Al-Khafji oil field in 1991.
Since the inception of the Saudi state in 1932, the US-Saudi relationship has produced mutual economic and strategic benefits at the expense of the Saudi people. However, relations have been severely scarred by recent developments, particularly by Saudi nationals’ vicious attack on the US on September 11, 2001. In addition, Saudi Arabia has been a major breeding ground for anti-American religious sentiments and an exporter of extremism. Furthermore, State Department documents publicized by Wikileaks suggest that Saudi Arabia has been a major financier of extremist groups worldwide.
The Arab World, including countries bordering Saudi Arabia, is being swept by public revolts against oppressive regimes. What should the United States do when the Saudi people demand drastic political reforms or the overthrow of the ruling family altogether? Should America stand by the Saudi people as it stood with the Tunisians and Egyptians (and to a lesser degree with the Bahrainis, Libyans and Yemenis)? Should it send its uniformed men and women to defend the last absolute monarchy in the world? The prudent, pragmatic, and morally correct response is to stand by the Saudi people.
To continue supporting an oppressive regime loathed not only by the Saudi people but by the international community, would be costly to Saudi people, American interests worldwide, the international economy, and established order.