Saudis during the early days of the anti-Hosni Mubarak demonstrations took to social media to overwhelmingly voice their support for the Egyptian people to end the president’s 30-year-old regime.
Although the demonstrators’ goals for a replacement government are unclear, it appeared in those first days of unrest that it mattered little to Saudi youths and intellectuals. Via Facebook and Twitter, Saudi men and women, including some university professors, were near unanimous in their support of efforts to depose the Egyptian president.
A young Saudi women employed by the United Nations posted on Facebook, “Thumbs up to Egypt and the girls of Egypt.” A Saudi man wrote, “Mubarak is against freedom of speech … and the proof is disconnecting the Internet, mobiles, SMSes and attacking media people. It was all an unsuccessful attempt … the message to all dictator governments is the world has become a small village and dictators can’t block the sun anymore.”
Popular Saudi blogger and activist Fouad Al-Farahan Twittered, “Democracy is the Solution!”
In one Facebook posting late Friday, a Saudi woman sought general observations about the Egyptian people’s bid for a regime change. Most of the nearly Saudi 200 responses fervently supported the demonstrators’ right to demand a new government. One Saudi wrote, “Doesn’t a politician feel ashamed when he lies in front of millions? Not only lying to your own people, but you are lying to the whole Arab world.”
That all changed on Saturday when Saudi Arabia released a statement condemning the street protesters. King Abdullah offered words of support from his government and the “Saudi people” to the threatened Egyptian president. King Abdullah reportedly blamed the unrest on “infiltrators.”
Saudi Facebook and Twitter postings fell dramatically almost immediately after King Abdullah's announcement was released. Now that the Saudi government has stated its disdain for the protesters, most pro-uprising statements disappeared. Many Saudis turned their attention away from Egypt and towards the tragedy of last week’s Jeddah floods that left more than 10 people dead.
Postings after Saturday were limited to links to Western news articles critical of President Obama’s tepid response to the demonstrations and his failure to demand that Mubarak resign from office.
Unlike most Arab countries, Saudis have a different view about expressing opinions once the King invokes the will of the Saudi public. Most Saudis are religious and Islam prohibits the uprising against a ruler who should be chosen based on wisdom, justice and fairness. The same goes for contradicting a ruler.
Moreover, there are hadiths that advise Muslims not to depose a ruler because it creates division in the Islamic community. Ibn `Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “It is obligatory upon a Muslim to listen (to the ruler) and obey whether he likes it or not, except when he is ordered to do a sinful thing; in such case, there is no obligation to listen or to obey.”
Yes, the Egyptians demonstrating in the streets clearly don’t believe their president possesses wisdom, justice and fairness. But one will be hard-pressed to find Saudis who feel that way about King Abdullah, who Saudis consider one best rulers in the Kingdom’s history. He is consistently named one of the top influential Muslims worldwide.
Saudis by nature put their trust in their ruler’s judgment, which is reflected in the decline of public statements. And for those Saudis who disagree with their government, there is immense pressure from Saudi society to conform to the government’s position as a religious duty.
King Abdullah’s speech, however, is not the only reason for the sudden silence in Saudi public opinion. Granted, few Saudis are willing to take on the role of contrarian once the King takes a stand on an issue. But Saudis were also disturbed by the violence and looting of Egypt’s oldest artifacts in public buildings and museums. The destruction of some of the country’s most treasured antiquities at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum during a wave of looting may have included items from the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Many Cairo and Alexandria neighborhoods have been seized by thieves who ransacked homes and supermarkets. A former student of mine living in Alexandra told me Saturday her neighborhood supermarket was stripped bare and looters roamed the streets. My father lives in central Cairo. He told me his neighborhood was spared from looting only because the young men living nearby blocked the streets and stood guard through the night.
While Saudis may support the democratic goals of their Egyptian brothers and sisters, they find violence and the wanton destruction of property an anathema. It’s simply uncivilized behavior. This kind of behavior doesn’t necessarily cool the passions of Saudis. But if Cairo and Alexandria slipped into chaos, Saudis don’t want to be thought of as endorsing such behavior.
Arab people now recognize that the United States is incapable of effecting real change in the Middle East. The American model of democracy has failed in the region. Changes must come from within. The Egyptian people are entitled to express their thoughts, fight for their freedom and seek a better standard of living. But revolutionaries defeat their cause by creating chaos and the wholesale destruction of property.