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More democratic freedoms in Saudi Arabia? Not going to happen

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.

Published time: August 12, 2013 11:05
Saudi Shi'ite Muslim women take part in a protest in Qatif, against a film made in the U.S. that mocks the Prophet Mohammad (Reuters / Zaki Ghawas)

Saudi Arabia policies are enormously hypocritical. They discriminate against 10 percent of their own population, the Shiites, while saying they are intervening in Syria for more democracy, journalist Pepe Escobar told RT.

RT: There have been protests since 2011 in Saudi Arabia. There have been many arrests since then too, but there hasn’t been much global media coverage of this. Why do you think that is the case?

Pepe Escobar: We should break down the strategy of the House of Saud. Basically it’s carrots and stick. Carrots in the form of a $60 billion handout program by King Abdullah at the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. The Saudis were horrified by the beginning of the Arab Spring in neighboring Bahrain. So they bribed their own subjects.

Number two, the stick is against the Shiite minority - roughly 10 percent of Saudi Arabia - who live in the Eastern province where most of the oil is by the way. They don’t want to bring down the house of Saud essentially. They want more participation, judiciary not answering to religious powers and basically more democratic freedoms. This is not going to happen in Saudi Arabia. Period. Nor in the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) petro-monarchies.

So it’s an enormous hypocrisy. They say to the Americans that they are intervening in Syria for a more democratic post-Assad Syria and inside Saudi Arabia it’s the Sunni-Shiite divide. They go against 10 percent of their own population.

RT: I know your newspaper is covering this, but why isn’t there global coverage of this story?

PE: The problem is [the] Saudi lobby industry is very strong, so whatever they tell the Americans and obviously compliant US corporate media [goes]. The Europeans are also in the same boat, and don’t forget that the Saudis control at least 90 percent of the media in the Middle East itself. The other 10 percent we can account for Al Jazeera from Qatar. So they tell the Middle Eastern public and Western public that they are on a fight to death against the Iranian infiltration on Iranian destabilization. Most public opinion in the West, they buy it.

There is no critical analysis about what the Saudis do in the region, what they have done science the Afghan Jihad in the 1980s where, by the way, they helped to destabilize Afghanistan for decades, because they were basically supplying the Mujahideen, they were the most radical of them all. Some of them became Al-Qaeda or, what the US tells us is the global Al-Qaeda. They are doing the same thing is Syria.

We come back to the contradiction, inside Saudi Arabia; the old Shiites generation didn’t want to bring the monarchy down. There is a very strong possibility that the younger generation, some of them unemployed, connected to the internet, on Facebook, on Google, on everything, the will want something radical against the House of Saud themselves.

Reuters / Fahad Shadeed

RT: Do you think those people who are protesting at the moment actually have a good chance of succeeding? Because we hear about the crackdown, but we also hear there is another opposition group called the Saudi Million. So despite the crackdown new protests groups keep appearing. What do you think the future is for them? Could they succeed at all?

PE: It is a good question because the crackdown is not working at all against the part of their own population. They are in Qatif, there are demonstration practically every week. There is a very important Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr, he is on trial at the moment and very hard core Wahhabi cleric in Saudi Arabia they are calling for his death penalty. If that happens, this is going to polarize the Shiite community as a whole, the old generation plus the younger Facebook-Google generation. It’s all extremely counterproductive because it is impossible for a feudal 7th-century regime to reform itself. The Wahhabi version of the Islamism Saudi Arabia is still 7th century. They will never reform and they will never respect Shiites.

RT: You say that they will never reform, but we have also seen and heard from the prince that is defected from the royal family. What impact do you think that will have?

PE: We are in the middle of a transition. King Abdullah, ‘is not busy being born, he is busy dying.’ That’s what is happening, he is busy dying and we don’t know who is going to be the heir to the throne in fact. Abdullah would like to put his son and there is a conflict between some of the most important branches of the House of Saud among themselves, including some of the top echelon of the 7,000 princes. Some of them we were used to seeing them in London, where they import their pink Lamborghinis and drive around like idiots. There is an internal configuration. They have an internal mini civil war, they discriminate against their own Shiites population, there is a problem inside the royal family and they still don’t know what they are going to do in the Middle East, even with the American support.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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