Last Friday, the King made a three minute pre-recorded speech thanking Saudis for their loyalty in an obvious reference to no one coming out to demonstrate on the Friday before. After the speech, two tv presenters took turns announcing a number of royal decrees. The night before the king’s speech and announcements were made, all newspaper editors were told not to use the term “royal generosity” or anything similar to refer to financial packages. These little things are evidence that up high they really are listening to what we down here are saying.
Last Friday’s royal decrees were surprising in their traditionalism while we were anticipating the opposite. Retrospectively though, anyone who would have stepped back and looked at the big picture would have been able to foresee these decrees.
Besides the fun and bribe-like two month salary that almost every Saudi employee and university student is getting, the rest of the decrees are pretty much same old same old. A commission to fight corruption being set up, more interior ministry officers and a lot of money promised to infrastructure; where have I heard that before? The commission that was set up a couple years ago to examine the corruption behind the loss of millions assigned to Jeddah’s municipality has yet to name a culprit. We’ve all read about the millions poured into projects that never see the light of day like this outline prepared by fellow blogger Trad Al Asmari in which three different construction companies take turns being paid to build a ministry for education at a total cost of about 350 million US dollars.
The rest of the decrees are to benefit the ultra-conservatives of Saudi. First in a move reminiscent of medieval times, the highest religious council has been royally decreed as untouchable, anyone criticizing the senior clerics will be punished. Then we have the religious establishment’s own personal financial package which includes 53 million dollars for the PVPV, 80 million for Islamic missionary centers, 130 million to fix up mosques and finally 53 million to support Quran memorization and teaching centers. It made me wonder what the PVPV will do with their 2010 600 strong fleet of patrol jeeps? Meanwhile anyone who has been in a Saudi police station, visited the prisons or at the very least checked out the orphanage in Makkah can tell you how just how far a fraction of all that money could go. But like I said before this is all explainable and foreseeable. If you were in control of Saudi, who would you care more about appeasing? The Islamists who have since the initiation of the country shown how quickly they can become radicalized and violent, or the moderates and liberal who are just as anxious about the Islamists as the state is?
I’m not worried though. Good things come to those who wait. What with 125,000 Saudi students abroad being exposed to a world beyond a Saudi life deeply entrenched in prideful denial, traditions and the opposite of critical thinking. And then about 40% of the population under 14 being raised in the new media age, change is just a matter of time.
On Twitter, a lot of the Saudi tweeps were critical about the announcements. My favorites include:
Mahmoud Sabbagh tweeted: the senior clerics bill for the prohibition of demonstrations fatwa has turned out to be really high.
Mohammad Al-Qahtani tweeted: All oppressive Arab regimes are trying to maintain the “status quo” by intimidation, bribery, employing armies of all kinds of mercenaries!
Abdullah bin Abid tweeted: What’s required is a constitution and a system that protects the rights of citizens and those in positions of responsibility, and assigns duties. We don’t need more security forces; security is in rights and political participation.
Abdulrahmin Allahim tweeted: A cleric is a citizen just as I’m a citizen. Why is he and his colleagues distinguished when it should be that the basic principles of citizenship ensure that he and I are equal before the law? I have yet to find an answer since the decree was announced.