The Great Debate UK
Saudi King Abdullah's lavish social handouts and a boost to security and religious police, but no political change, leaves his prized reputation as a reformist in tatters, analysts say.
The king, believed to be 87, has carefully crafted an image as a cautious reformer in a country ruled by a single generation of his brothers as absolute monarchs for nearly six decades. But faced with unrest rocking much of the Arab world, he is playing the old game of buying support from key sectors of society to keep family rule as it is.
In a rare TV address to the nation last Friday, the king announced the new spending but gave no concessions on rights in a country where public space is dominated by the royal family, political parties are banned and there is no elected parliament.
If President Hosni Mubarak bows to the clamor of the street and goes, Egyptians and other Arabs seeking to turn a page on autocratic government may look at Turkey for some clues on marrying Islam and democracy.
(Photo: Tunisian protester with political demands on a banner that reads
"No to a government born of corruption" “Ben Ali is in Saudi Arabia and the government is the same (hasn’t changed)” in Arabic and "RCD, clear out!" in French. The RCD is the party of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. In Tunis January 18, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)
The absence of Islamist slogans from Tunisia's pro-democracy revolt punches a hole in the argument of many Arab autocrats that they are the bulwark stopping religious radicals sweeping to power.
Ousted strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali spent much of his 23-year rule crushing Islamist opposition groups who opposed his government's brand of strict secularism: after Sept. 11 2001, he was an enthusiastic backer of Washington's "war on terror".