The Arab Spring and Eastern Saudi Arabia

I’m partial towards any uprising, more or less, against any and all regimes in the Middle East as I believe that not a single one is worthy of toleration. The ones that really tug on the heartstrings, however, are the ones that the world refuses to acknowledge. For example, it’s horrifying the way the world just completely shunned the Bahraini uprising and continues to do so. Egypt was “sexy and cool” but Bahrain is “too small” to elicit any attention – so the thinking goes. From a geo-strategic standpoint, the Bahraini dictatorship is too important to the US for Obama to criticize the Saudi intervention in the spring of 2011 or to withhold US arms shipments.  In other words, the Bahraini people’s democratic aspirations are held hostage to the region’s cold-calculating geo-politics. Today, the struggle in Bahrain continues and there is another movement that has barely registered on the world media’s radar that also warrants attention.

The eastern region of Saudi Arabia where most of the kingdom’s oil is located along with its quarter Shi’ite population has been experiencing an underground civil rights movement, sometimes making it possible to get its voice out to a larger audience. Al-Jazeera English offers this rare gem of a video. The truth is, however, the much more influential Arabic branch of the news network will not cover it. It’s one thing to let far-flung English-speakers know about the protest movement in eastern Saudi Arabia, it’s quite another thing to inform local and regional Arabs of it thereby illiciting their sympathies and support.

The Persian Gulf tyrannies, needless to say, worry that one amongst them will fall to a popular movement, consequently, serving as a exemplar for action for their region. Thus, despite their occassional tiffs, the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms have a vested interest in not covering turmoil in neighboring countries, and if necessary, intervening to ward of revolution. Hence Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar and often serves its foreign policy goals, barely covers the movements in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent forces to sustain the Bahraini crackdown in the spring of 2011, when the monarchy was on its last leg.

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