Saudi “Day of Rage” Is Subdued Affair

James Phillips /

The March 11 “Day of Rage” demonstrations called for by political opponents of the Saudi monarchy did not materialize as anticipated. Turnout for the protests was sparse in the face of warnings from Saudi officials that laws prohibiting public demonstrations would be strictly enforced. On the day of the protest, the government ordered a massive police clampdown, mobilizing thousands of internal security forces in major cities to erect a web of checkpoints and mobile patrols. Perhaps more importantly, there was growing confusion over exactly who was calling for the “Day of Rage.” The grassroots Facebook campaign, which originally called for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, vibrant civil society and greater respect for human rights, was gradually taken over by Islamists who called for the overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of an Islamist state.

Most Saudis may want reform, but they are not necessarily opposed to the royal family, in part because they have an economic stake in continuing the welfare benefits afforded by the present political system. The apparent indifference to the call to action by a Saudi silent majority led a prominent Saudi journalist to observe: “Everybody was surprised when this day of rage turned into a silent Bayaa [ceremony performed in Islamic societies where the public formally endorse the rule of a leader].” But there were other contributing factors, such as uncertainty about the intent of the organizers of the proposed protests and a reluctance of some Sunni reformists to become too closely identified with the ongoing demonstrations by Saudi Shia leaders. (more…)