Middle East Protests - Saudi Arabia: Awakening

The second Palestinian Intifada uprising and the collapse of the Middle East peace process has resulted in demonstrations across the Arab world from Morocco to Oman. None were more surprising than those in Saudi Arabia where the population has previously been kept politically passive. An unprecedented series of spontaneous, emotionally charged gatherings began in October. Traditionally these would have been defined by the establishment as bid’a - a dangerous innovation. But now another taboo has been broken too, with Saudi women also demonstrating, for the first time, for Palestine.

The World Today Published 1 December 2000 Updated 28 October 2020 4 minute READ

Mai Yamani

Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

What implications do these startling events have for the political future of this major oil producer and main ally of the West, especially the dominant world power, the United States? How will this phenomenon effect Saudi Arabia’s role as custodian of the two holiest places for a billion Muslims?

We are seeing the awakening of a sense of Arab heritage inspired by identification with young Palestinians being gunned down by Israeli troops. This is intricately linked to the wider Muslim religious affinity with the third holiest site, Jerusalem.

As the men and women on Saudi Arabia’s streets shake off their subservient silence, how will palace and people relate in the near future? We have entered a period of turbulence during which the ruled are negotiating their relationship with the rulers. The perception of authority is changing.

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