Broken Code

Fahad Nazer, a former political analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, says those waiting for a revolution in Saudi Arabia are in for disappointment. The country has managed to survive the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world due to Saudi exceptionalism, or what he likes to call: a “Saudi Code.” He writes:

Saudis believe that they are unlike their counterparts in the Middle East; not better, just different. That also means that they do things differently. Part of the reason behind this exceptionalism stems from the kingdom’s preeminence in the Muslim world and its global importance as the world’s top oil producer. The former has made Saudis ultra-cautious when advocating for reform. The latter has led some to develop a sense of entitlement that made them reliant on government largess. For others, this healthy sense of self-worth has made them demand a bigger role in the political decision making process.

This privileged existence, however, is tempered by an arcane Saudi code that sets the parameters of how Saudis interact with each other, as well as with the state. Much like the rules that govern relations between members of a large family, it is understood through experiential learning.

Saudis do not see the regime as their enemy, nor do they consider their monarch to be a tyrant. They also do not view their state as inherently unjust. Recent polls conducted in the region show that Saudis are optimistic about their economic well-being and are generally “happy.”

There is some truth to to that, but in the end the truth is that you can’t run a modern state like you run a family. Polls might show that Saudis are happy, but numbers also show that unemployment is high and the voices of frustration and dissent are becoming increasingly audible. Even street protests are no longer limited to the Shia in the east. Protests by Families of detainees in Riyadh and Qassim have become frequent. If Saudi exceptionalism is to continue, change must take place. The status quo is unsustainable.