Saudi Arabia thinks its a good idea to arm the Syrian opposition against Bashar al-Assad, yet when it comes to their own citizens opposing the ruling or religious elite, they are crushed almost immediately.
The latest example of this hypocrisy has occurred in King Khaled University in the southwestern city of Abha, where police crushed a protest by several hundred female students campaigning against corruption, discrimination and sanitary conditions at their university. According to a report in The Times today, the protest, which took place on Wednesday, was immediately broken up by the Haia–religious policemen. One woman died, 50 were injured and one had a miscarriage.
Since the Arab uprisings began last year, women and the minority Shia population have been campaigning for greater rights in the Kingdom. For example, women are prohibited from driving because of a religious edict; and a number of Shia Saudi’s have died over the last year in violent clashes with police forces in Qatif, the eastern, oil-rich region of the country. Token financial measures awarded by the King last year hasn’t been enough to placate these two segments of Saudi society. While women, for example were granted the right to vote in municipal elections last year, they are still not allowed to drive. The Shias, who have for a number of years been calling for an end to arbitrary arrests, discrimination in employment and better representation on a ministerial level, have yet to see their demands met (see this Foreign Policy article for more on the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia).
The Shia population in Saudi Arabia is estimated to constitute 10% of the total population; Saudi women constitute approximately 45%–together, that’s just over half the total population that currently faces discrimination, and that’s not even taking into account a whole host of other political and social grievances the rest of the population have.
If the Saudi Royal family don’t start implementing real reforms in the near future, they may very well find that their two-faced approach to opposition will back fire.