Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

In today's New York Times, columnist Nick Kristof posted an open letter to King Hamad of Bahrain, requesting the release of Hassan al-Sahaf, a 57-year old Shia moderate. Like many other Bahrainis, including relatives of our friend Shubbar, al-Sahaf remains under arrest. Here's hoping that King Hamad will listen to such reasonable voices and free political prisoners. We're thankful that our friend Shubbar is out, but we won't rest until all the unfairly detained political prisoners are free.

Today's Times also has a story by Neil MacFarquhar on how Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has spent $130 billion to buy off opposition critics and forestall the kind of pro-reform protests that have rocked nearly every other Arab state. In addition to deep pockets, the royal family has a loyal religious establishment that has been preaching against revolt as un-Islamic. And the police have arrested anyone with the temerity to test restrictions against public protest.

As a result, and contrary to my expectations, the al-Saud family has managed to forestall any major protests, turning an announced Day of Rage on March 11 into a Day of Duds. Given the lack of protests so far, the al-Saud family wins the Donkey award for the most skillful use of carrots and sticks

But will this strategy work in the long run? As MacFarquhar writes, 
Saudi Arabia’s efforts have succeeded in the short run, at home and in its Persian Gulf backyard. But some critics call its strategy of effectively buying off public opinion unsustainable because it fails to address underlying problems.
Keep watching Saudi Arabia. The Arab Spring hasn't ended yet.

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