Will reform come to Saudi Arabia? Saudi Princess Basmah speaks to The Stream on how the Arab uprisings will affect her country
Princess Basma bint Saud bin Abd Al-Aziz Aal Saud, niece of Saudi King Abdullah, is an outspoken critic of the Kingdom's ruling ministers and governors. She has called for reformed policies towards women in Saudi Arabia, who she believes are entrapped in a modern-day form of slavery.
<p>In an effort to quell dissent and prevent the massive uprisings that have occurred across the Arab world, Saudi's King Abdullah has offered some concessions, including a $70 billion dollar package that includes 60,000 government jobs, interest free loans and pay increases, among other benefits. He also announced that women would be given the right to seek office and vote in municipal elections in 2015 and could serve on the country's advisory Shura Council in 2013. </p>
Pictured below are King Abdullah (far left) and Saudi Arabia's other ruling elite.
In this video, King Abdullah declares that a respectable society upholds the truth and praises the security forces for protecting the Saudi people. "God knows that the people are in my heart," he says.
The video below shows King Abdullah and President Obama at the White House on June 29, 2010. The Saudi King makes a joke about the media's power to sway public opinion against or in favor of the government.
On Sept 25, 2011, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia granted women the right to vote and run for positions in municipal elections for the first time. Although women are slowly gaining rights, there are still significant disparities between genders. For instance, women outnumber men in university enrollment (56% and 44% respectively) but only make up 10% of the workforce.
Sheikh Assim Al-hakeem, an instructor at Saudi Arabia's Knowledge International University, believes that women should not travel anywhere without a mahram, or male guardian. Even if they receive permission from their parents, Sheikh Al-hakeem says what is needed is Allah's permission.
Dr. Alhabdan, a Saudi Arabian cleric, tweets a link describing it as a "helpful search for those who want to know more about the rules of women participating in politics."
In this tweet, Dr. Alhabdan says that the issue of whether women should be allowed to enter the Shura Council can be found from looking at the Prophet Mohammed. The link goes on to say that women can give their opinion and advice without being a member of the Shura Council and mixing with men in meeting rooms and gatherings.
Scores of Saudi women got behind the wheel and took to the streets on June 17, 2011 to protest the driving ban placed on women. Saudia Arabia is the only country in the world where women are banned from driving.
Manal Al Sharif, a 32-year-old Saudi woman, was detained for two weeks after posting a video of herself driving on the internet. In the video, Al Sharif says women need to learn how to drive in order to protect themselves and their families.
On March 11, 2011, protesters organized a "Day of Rage" to express their grievances against the Saudi regime. Several hundred protesters came out in the cities of Hofuf, Awwamiya, and Qatif in the Eastern Province to demand the release of political prisoners.
This video shows police officers calmly interacting with protesters and assuring them that their concerns are heard and will be addressed.
Dissatisfied with the regime's apparent lack of reforms, Shi'a Muslims have continued to protest in the streets since the "Day of Rage." Below, protesters in Qatif repeatedly chant "Death to Al-Saud." Saudi citizens say they suffer from widespread discrimination, citing a more difficult time getting government jobs and unequal government funding than other regions.<br>
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In the following video, women marched to show solidarity and support for Shi'a political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.
Women and children have joined and even led the protests in the Eastern Province.
Several Shi'a Muslims have been killed in the unrest. The poster and symbolic coffin below commemorate "The Honorable Martyrs of Qatif."
A 22-year-old Shi'a protester, Essam Muhammad Ali Abu Abdullah, was shot dead at a protest on January 13, 2011 evening in the town of Awwamiya. International human rights group Amnesty International has been urging Saudi authorities to independently investigate his death.<br>
The following videos below show the funeral procession for Essam.
The video below shows protesters in Qatif demonstrating their displeasure with the Crown Prince Naif, who is next in line to inherit the throne. The protesters chant "Naif, you're a terrorist. Naif, you are a liar."
Firas Buqnah, a young Saudi film maker produced a short documentary in 2011 entitled "<em>Mal'ub 'Alayna</em>" (Played on Us: Poverty Saudi Arabia) highlighting the poverty among 22% of Saudi Arabia's population. Saudi authorities responded swiftly by arresting Boqnah and his film crew.
Saudi Arabia is considered the least democratic country in the Middle East, ranking high in inequality and very low in democracy. Saudi Arabia ranks 160th out of 167 countries for democracy according to the 2010 Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
A map by the US Energy Information Administration shows the Eastern Province city of Qatif, where the unrest is now concentrated, to be located near the center of a key oil field and adjacent to a strategic Arabian port.