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.
(Photo: Religious police perform dusk prayers with Saudi youth outside a Riyadh cafe on June 27, 2010 during half-time of the Germany-England World Cup soccer match. The police ensured that people watching matches in cafes said their prayers during the tournament/Fahad Shadeed)
WikiLeaks has come up with an interesting insight into the way King Abdullah views his own kingdom's religious police, the mutaween who enforce Islamic behaviour in public. A cable from the Riyadh embassy entitled IDEOLOGICAL AND OWNERSHIP TRENDS IN THE SAUDI MEDIA and dated 11 May 2009 mentions what appears to be a U.S. diplomat's visit to a Saudi newspaper editor whose name is XXXed out. The Saudi says the king had visited the office and complained about how ignorant the religious police were about Islam and how they treated people like donkeys:
¶18. (S) In a meeting with Jeddah CG and XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX was blunt when asked about SAG efforts in countering extremist thinking. “King Abdallah was here,” he said, pointing around his well-appointed office XXXXXXXXXXXX in Jeddah. “He told us that conservative elements in Saudi society do not understand true Islam, and that people needed to be educated” on the subject. King Abdallah, he said, used a metaphor of a donkey to explain how the religious police use the wrong approach. “They take a stick and hit you with it, saying ‘Come donkey, it’s time to pray.’ How does that help people behave like good Muslims?” XXXXXXXXXXXX quoted the king as saying.