With a Nervous Eye on Regional Unrest, Saudi King Announces $37 Billion in Handouts
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, back in the desert kingdom after a three-month medical leave in the United States and Morocco, has no doubt been keeping a nervous eye on unfolding events throughout the Middle East. The recent successful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the growing unrest in other authoritarian states such as Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria and Morocco has in all likelihood made the Saudi king very nervous and fearful for his own tyrannical regime. The 87-year-old monarch has responded by announcing $37 billion in benefits for low- and middle-income Saudi nationals, including pay raises, unemployment benefits and affordable family housing.
Still, Saudi Facebook users have called for a national “Day of Rage” on March 11. They’re demanding more democracy, women’s rights and the release of political prisoners, according to Reuters.
In addition to losing sleep over the planned March 11 protests, the Saudi royal family must be keeping a particularly watchful eye on their tiny neighbor Bahrain, where an oppressed Shiite majority has been demonstrating against the ruling Sunni monarchy. Saudi Arabia has its own restive Shiite population in the oil-rich eastern part of the country.
In many ways, Saudi Arabia is the most repressive country in the Middle East. The Saudi royal family has ruled with an iron fist since the nation’s founding in 1932. A strict brand of Islamic fundamentalism is practiced. There is no elected parliament or political parties. Women have very few rights; they cannot even drive cars. Public dissent is strictly forbidden.
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