Can Saudi Activists Pull Off Facebook-Led Revolution?

Numerous Facebook posts are calling for a Saudi Arabia to have its own “day of rage” on March 11, invoking protests in other Middle Eastern nations, but activists in the wealthy nation have so far not had much success in rallying participants.

No one showed up for a demonstration recently scheduled in the city of Riyadh, and a protest in the nation’s second-largest metropolis, Jeddah, ended quickly, according to Reuters. The protest organizers called for many things people in Western nations already take for granted:

  • government officials to be elected by the people
  • an independent judiciary
  • the right to assemble
  • freedom of expression
  • release of political prisoners
  • a minimum wage law
  • more employment opportunities
  • formation of an entity that would eliminate unfair taxes and corrupt practices by government
  • rebuilding the armed forces
  • reforming the conservative Sunni Muslim clerics
  • abolition of restrictions on women

The list of demands seems long enough to make the poor participation in protests a bit puzzling, as the populace definitely has the means to get the message, either online or via cell-phone text messages. Saudi Arabia had almost 2.6 million Facebook users as of August 31, and Internet use by 38.1 percent of the population, about 9.8 million out of 25.7 million. However, the nation has the ninth-greatest rate of cell-phone usage, with 175 percent penetration, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

The poor response to calls for protest in Saudi Arabia somewhat resembles the situation in Libya, where a full-on revolt hasn’t taken root. Presumably the Saudis’ reputed wealth compared to other nations in the region might have instilled a sense of complacency among citizens (the country’s unemployment rate of around 10 percent comes close to that of the U.S.).

Why do you suppose that Saudi Arabian activists haven’t had much success with attempts to organize protests via Facebook? Might they have more luck with the March 11 event?

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