Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The House of Al Saud: In Over Its Head?

In stories and books about the establishment of the Nation State of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is romantically portrayed as the noble leader  who "united" the tribes of Arabia. "Unite" seems an odd word to teach the masses, as history has shown most who establish control of a region do it through scheming, betrayal, politics, and lots of blood. The man was a  great conquerer, he should be recognized as such. I do not wish to praise or condemn his character - however I cannot argue with the fact that he was a man willing to sweat and get his hands very very dirty to get the job done.  His time was a much different generation, living within the harsh desert climate of Arabia – pre-oil boom and pre-convienience; a time that many Saudis argue were much harder times; but times that they say where one could found more quality, morale, drive and ethics within the community.  

The Sudairi seven, his seven sons from wife Hassa Al-Sudairi have managed leadership of the Kingdom between themselves, however, many have passed on, and more are elderly and sickly, and their time on Earth is surely very limited. Their generation saw a different Saudi Arabia than the one we know today, and was still very much in contact with the previous generation (the one of their father) who was used to living in the harsher times in Saudi Arabia. The late King Faisal responded to American oil threats during the 1973 oil embargo with: “We can go back to the desert and live off of dates and camel milk, but what will you do without oil?” This response worked at the time, because King Faisal’s was also a generation who needed to know how to survive, how to get their hands dirty, and how to "control" a nation, much different than the ones to follow.

The “house of al Saud” has grown, and its youth are now very disconnected from the harsh Arabia of King Abdul Aziz. They are used to a hefty allowance, lavish lifestyles, with so many people around them sucking up that few have to deal with real conflict outside of their family circles and most don’t know how to deal with it; some murder, some get crazy drunk, some sniff cocaine, some get prostitutes, some get arrested, some give "good blow jobs"…but all no longer remember a Saudi Arabia without McDonalds, cars, money, Air Conditioning, and airplanes; and none of them had to get sweaty to have any of it. Theirs is a generation who may not be able to handle running the population of whom - I would argue - has greatly surpassed them.

 It used to be only the royals and major elites that could travel overseas to study. Only these elite few – already in control and to some extent free of many of the strict restrictions of Saudi society - got to taste the “freedom” taught in western schools and universities. Now a massive portion of Saudi students have been exposed to a world where leadership is not recognized by family name, and where ordinary people are encouraged to constantly question everything and think critically. This was once a message only the elites were exposed to, and with the King Abdullah scholarship, this door has been opened for a massive number of young Saudi men and women.

 The Ottoman Empire, Mohamed Ali’s Egypt, and the Qajar and Shahs of Iran all went through extensive reforms in their nations as they began to notice discontent– all plans included sending large number of students overseas to study – many of these students ended up being the very same students who would return to their countries to contribute to the fall of these regimes.

Saudis are being educated within the Kingdom and outside the kingdom. Even Saudis within the Kingdom have been exposed to large number of foreigners who have have been invited in to work. They have seen the difference in lifestyle, they have been exposed to different ideas through books, movies, TV, internet (Saudi Arabia in the last year was by a landslide the country that experienced the most growth on Twitter). All these technologies opening the outside world to Saudi (to some extent) are at each individuals access, allowing for each Saudi citizen to have a window to a different way of thinking and to form their own personal experience with the outside world, something that wasn’t possible for the majority of even the most previous generation.

The last generation tried for change, women tried to take to the streets in a driving protest in order to demand their rights and were met with brutality, Qatifis took to the streets around 30 years ago to demand rights and were met with brutality, prisoners piled into jails and were tortured for wanting simple reforms. They may have failed to reach their exact goals – but they definitley ignited a spark – and many of these people have had children. Their children live in a different time, and their children are trying once again for the change in Saudi Arabia.

Protests are happening in the Kingdom now – from Qatif the Shiite center to Qassim the center of Wahhabism. The two most opposite cities in Saudi Arabia are both experiencing a common discontent with the way things are.

The generation who could perhaps say “we will go back to living on dates in the desert and camel milk” is in its last days in leadership, and the power is to be eventually passed down to the next generation of royals. The majority of whom have been pampered and remain severly disconnected from reality…yet they are the ones who are to rule those educated and globally-connected Saudi youth?

Between rampant poverty in a nation rich with wealth, to backward bureaucracy that forces everyone to run in circles before they can get anything accomplished, corrupt clerics who have deviated so far from Islam that many Muslims refuse to recognize it, to serious social issues (rape, sexual harassment, workers rights, etc) that are not spoken of, a Shiite and female population who have been mistreated and misunderstood for generations, to large amounts of people who have been thrown in prison for speaking out or wanting simple freedoms, and an educated youth who are beginning to challenge themselves to dream for the impossible….

The House of Al Saud has all the symptoms to an inevitable fall.  When? I don’t know, but I think I’ll be alive to see it.  

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