With the human rights crisis reaching what could be a crescendo in Libya, attention’s turned to North Africa and away from places like Yemen and Bahrain. But I’ve been watching closely and wondering about what ripple effect is being felt in Saudi Arabia.
In Yemen, just to the South of Saudi, a youth movement used text messages to organize, much like what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. However, the protesters there seem far more fractured. The President’s given in to some demands by a more organized opposition group (not the youth)…which seems to have reduced the tension from boiling to simmer.
In Bahrain, Friday’s protests drew about a a fifth of the small country’s population to Pearl Square. Even though the King’s made some concessions to protesters, he’s not said a word about democracy. And one of the most important currents in this country’s unrest is religious. The ruling family is Sunni, but the majority of the people in Bahrain are Shiite.
The country may be an island nation, but it’s actually connected to Saudi Arabia by a bridge, built in the 1980s. I had a chance to walk on it before it even opened, when I taped an episode of “Small World”, a children’s show I hosted on the English speaking channel in Saudi Arabia. I also traveled South to the border with Yemen. So I can’t help but think about how close this turmoil is to the Kingdom, with internal pressures of its own.
While most analysts don’t expect a powerful uprising in this wealthy and mostly Sunni nation, there’s a rumbling among women. Saudi women are allowed to be educated and go to work, but they cannot drive or even go to public places unaccompanied without a male relative. This, in 2011. In the 1980s I remember seeing buses with special sections in the back for women only. I assume they are still running.
Just before the first Gulf War, women staged a driving protest in this country. That was quickly tamped down by religious police. More recently, in 2008, a woman defied Saudi law by driving and posting it on YouTube. It raised more awareness. However, to this day, nothing’s changed. So sadly, I don’t have high hopes for a women-driven revolution in the Kingdom during this time of historic change in the region. The Facebook page entitled “Saudi Women Revolution” hasn’t even hit 1000 ‘likes’ yet. And even though social media, including Twitter, is playing a role in this movement too, it’s just not enough.
What could make it work? Saudi Arabia has a multitude of educated but underemployed young men. Many seem disaffected and some have turned to Islamic Fundamentalism to find purpose. But I have not seen any reports that any great numbers are willing to join forces with their sisters and cousins and daughters and wives to fight for their freedom. Without that, an economic crisis, or religious repression of the majority, the spark just doesn’t seem to be strong enough…yet. Not even with the unrest in Bahrain and Yemen so close to home.