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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

16 - Saudi Internal Dilemmas and Regional Responses to the Arab Uprisings

Summary

Abstract

This chapter argues that Saudi Arabia’s responses to the Arab uprisings of 2011–12 have been dictated by its internal political and social dilemmas. The Saudi leadership is most concerned with maintaining the status quo and it has used various strategies as the revolts spread. At home, economic rewards, coupled with renewed religious discourse about obedience to rulers and heavy security measures, ensured the silencing of protest, at least among the Sunni majority. However, these measures failed to contain the Shia protest in the Eastern Province. Abroad, the regime deployed three strategies: containment of the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya; counterrevolution in Bahrain and Yemen; and support for the revolution in Syria. This chapter highlights the connections between internal Saudi dilemmas and the mixed responses to the Arab uprisings.

Saudi Arabia remains an authoritarian state without political participation or democratic institutions. Its internal political and social dilemmas have dictated its responses to the Arab uprisings of 2010–12. Unlike other monarchies in the region, the Saudi leadership has not engaged in serious political reform or encouraged open debate about the uprisings.1 On the contrary, severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly were imposed and a wave of new intimidation began. Arguably, Saudi Arabia is most concerned with maintaining the status quo. When revolts spread from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, the Saudi rulers resorted to multiple strategies. At home, economic rewards, coupled with renewed religious discourse about obedience to rulers and heavy security measures, ensured the silencing of protest – at least amongst the Sunni majority. However, these measures failed to contain the Shia protest in the Eastern Province.

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