Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saudi Hiccup?

As riots raged in Cairo on Friday and dominated the news wires around the globe, Saudi Arabia, it appears, may be getting ready to join the list of Arab nations protesting their governments.

In the port of Jeddah relatively heavy rainfall combined with a non-existent drainage system to wreak havoc on the city and its 4 million inhabitants. The city is literally flooded and the torrential, and very rare, rains have caused around $ 1 Billion USD worth of damages.

So far there are 11 dead and over 100 injured as a result. Incredibly, over 11,000 cars were stranded in floodwaters as water levels were reported to be 4 meters (13.2 feet) deep in some areas. Rescue helicopters have ferried almost 500 people to safety!

Oddly enough, and unfortunately for the government, the same scenario happened in 2009!

Back then it was dubbed Saudi's "Katrina Moment". Over 122 people were killed (some estimate it was more like 500) and hundreds injured as the government fell on its face during the response effort.

That led to widespread discontent and a fury of criticism of the local government mainly via, you guessed it...Facebook. The main theme was "Where are the billions in oil revenue going?".

Back in 2009 and according to the CS Monitor:

Mr. Khair, the lawyer, says he intends to file a class action suit against Jeddah's municipality. He does not think any official will be forced to resign, he adds. "In Saudi Arabia, we didn't hear about someone leaving his office."
The attorney says that the Facebook page was a useful alternative because street protests are illegal in the kingdom. The Internet "is the only way. We don't have another way," he says.
The episode has demonstrated "how technology allows people to shout out loud. I have never seen this before in Saudi," says Asaad, the lecturer. Even if people commenting on Facebook "use pseudonyms, it's a start," she adds. "But nowadays, people are using their real names."

Which brings us to today.

A mass blackberry messenger message has gone out in Jeddah calling for a demonstration on Saturday, the 29th. It says:

“On Saturday there will be a demonstration in front of the municipality for Jeddah … gather as many people as you can,” the message ran. “We need brave men and women. We don’t want any more lies … We have to do something.”

Another message also sent via Blackberry urged all government and private sector employees to hold a general strike next week in protest at the authorities’ neglect of the city’s infrastructure.

This is very serious news if it happens. The ruling Saud family's main areas of support are centered around the capitol city, Riyadh. There are long standing historical tensions with the people of the western provice, Hijaz, of which Jeddah is the largest city. Jeddah is also the second largest city in Saudi Arabia overall and is the port of arrival to the more than 2 million Muslims who make the pilgrimage to Mecca every year.

Also, in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia are most of the shunned Shia Muslims of the country. They are regarded as infidels by some hardline Wahhabists and face a glass ceiling when working in public bureaucracies. There have been tensions there also and several protests.

Here is an excellent paper about the ethnic and religious background of Saudi Arabia.

In addition to the religious and social tensions in Saudi, perhaps the economic tensions are the greatest of all. According to a recent report by Booz & Co., unemployment in Saudi Arabia is estimated to be 13-14% in 2008. Additionally, 48% of Saudis between the age of 20-24 are unemployed as well as 31% of Saudis between 25-29.

70% of the population is under the age of 34 and the Median age is 24.9

In other words, the powder is dry...

Here is a video of the clashes between police and Saudi Shia's (keep in mind the source is Iran's Press TV)

Here is a video of the catastrophic floods in Jeddah this week:

1 comment:

hashimilion said...

Great blog. Once things settle down in Egypt, riots will take place in saudi. Mark my words.