Ever since King Abdullah returned to Saudi Arabia last week, Saudi activists and intellectuals have pressed, using three separate petitions as well as various Facebook groups, for a constitutional monarchy and called for street protests. Although still unconfirmed, there have even been reports of an online activist being shot and killed as a result of his commitment to starting such protests. While King Abdullah has initiated some changes in the country's education and justice systems and given the Saudi press greater latitude, he has not ventured into the sensitive arena of political reform. According to Caryle Murphy, it seems unlikely that these protests will eventually materialize for several reasons:
Such demonstrations are illegal in the kingdom, and Saudi culture is strongly against public displays of civil disobedience.
In addition, there is no evidence that the petitions or the protest calls have widespread national support. Rather, they appear to be most representative of a growing slice of Saudi society that is politically restive but not yet organized for mass action.
There is also the economic factor:
The demands for political reforms also follow a huge package of economic benefits, estimated between $30 to $36 billion, that was unveiled Feb. 23 to mark the king's return that day from his three-month absence abroad for medical treatment.
The package includes unemployment insurance for the first time, increases in welfare payments for poor households, funds to alleviate a severe shortage of affordable housing, millions for charities, sports and cultural clubs, as well as the release of thousands of prisoners who had failed to pay debts.
While government officials said the economic package has been in the works for some time, many Saudis and other observers interpreted it as an effort to defuse discontent and forestall mass political protests like those elsewhere.
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