Monday, March 07, 2011

Saudi Arabia is next

Tunisia and Egypt's authoritarian regimes have fallen. Gaddafi is in trouble in Libya. Protests are continuing in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan and Oman. And now, they're coming to Saudi Arabia as well. The government's response? A crackdown, of course:

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer and the regional domino whose fall the West fears most, yesterday announced that it would ban all protests and marches. The move – the stick to match the carrot of benefits worth $37bn (£23bn) recently offered citizens in an effort to stave off the unrest that has overtaken nearby states – comes before a "day of rage" threatened for this Friday by opponents of the regime.

The Saudi Interior Ministry said the kingdom has banned all demonstrations because they contradict Islamic laws and social values. The ministry said some people have tried to get around the law to "achieve illegitimate aims" and it warned that security forces were authorised to act against violators. By way of emphasis, a statement broadcast on Saudi television said the authorities would "use all measures" to prevent any attempt to disrupt public order.

Of course, the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia imposed similar bans and made similar threats. It didn't do them any good. If Saudi Arabia wants to avoid becoming the next fallen dictatorship, it needs to reform, and fast.

Meanwhile, the US's hypocrisy is exposed again. It purports to stand for democratic values, and yet when a key ally suspends basic freedoms and threatens to murder protestors for speaking out against corruption and a lack of human rights, it stays silent. Gaddafi is going to the ICC for murdering protestors. But you can be sure that the US will block any move to hold the Saudi regime legally accountable should they use the same tactics. Which brings both them and the international legal regime into contempt.