Hear the one about the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia that nobody noticed?

No, this is not a joke. It is a real situation—and a cautionary example of what happens when Western governments and their media are more favorable to some “revolutions” than others.

With the Syrian regime, long out of favor with the West, we heard about the uprising from the beginning. The drumbeat has grown dramatically, along with Western condemnations and moves to isolate the regime for its crackdown on dissent.

In the case of Libya, run by the fiercely independent and eccentric Qaddafi, much of the world’s press credulously rushed to print every rumor about regime excesses, many of them never verified and seemingly  untrue. (For more on that, see this and this and this.)  The press portrayed the rebels as heroes, and featured almost daily coverage. As NATO launched a creeping intervention which ended with wall to wall bombing, the media accepted its claim that the intervention was to stop Qaddafi from harming or further oppressing his people.

The media quickly took to—and stayed with— the uprising in Egypt, one of the poorest countries in the region, where the West lost an ally but quickly found a new collaborator in  a similarly-inclined military junta.

In the case of the mother of all petro-allies, Saudi Arabia, however, protests have been met with near silence by the media and no expressions of sympathy for the dissenters by Western governments.


Here’s the background: On November 21, government troops opened fire on demonstrators in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, killing at least four and injuring more. Given the general paucity of demonstrations in a country where dissent is dealt with fiercely, the unrest and violence seemed a highly newsworthy development.

The next day, the Middle-East-based Al Jazeera English, the “best” Western source of news from the region, punted. Instead of getting direct eyewitness accounts that might anger the Saudi leadership (close allies of the Emir of Qatar, who owns Al Jazeera), the network used an old trick. It quoted a Western news agency, the French outfit Agence France Press, which merely reported the Saudi government’s version of events.  (For more on blatant inconsistencies in how Al Jazeera covers different uprisings in the region, see this WhoWhatWhy article)

Two days after Al Jazeera, the Associated Press had its own report, also based on the Saudi spokesman. The article did note “a series of clashes between police and protesters in the country’s Shiite-dominated eastern region, starting in the spring.” It noted:

The Interior Ministry previously blamed what it described as “seditious” residents, saying they attacked security forces with guns and firebombs with the backing of a foreign enemy — an apparent reference to Shiite power Iran.

The ministry statement Thursday said the deaths in the new unrest were the result of exchanges of fire since Monday with “unknown criminals,” who it said fired on security checkpoints and vehicles from houses and alleyways.

The purported context comes in the final paragraph:

There is a long history of discord between the kingdom’s Sunni rulers and the Shiite minority concentrated in the east, Saudi Arabia’s key oil-producing region. Shiites make up 10 percent of the kingdom’s 23 million citizens and complain of discrimination, saying they are barred from key positions in the military and government and are not given a proportionate share of the country’s wealth.

The salient point in Saudi Arabia, however, is not really ethnic discrimination, which exists throughout the world. It is the story of the avarice and brutality through which one extended family dominates a country.

In Libya, the uprising was dominated by a distinct tribal opposition, yet it was quickly characterized as representing broad national sentiment, with a kind of nobility and inevitability. Not so (up to now) with reporting on the Saudi protests. In truth, dissatisfaction with the Saudi royal family is hardly limited to the Shiites, and the levels of anger are probably as great and perhaps greater than that felt by the average Libyan toward Qaddafi.


Those wanting a closer look at what is going on in Saudi Arabia can go to the site Liveleak, where there’s highly disturbing video accompanied by this text:  “Qatif—Firing live bullets at the demonstrators November 21, 2011: Video shows the brutal style Saudi security forces in dealing with the demonstrators by firing live bullets.” Another source is a blog called “Angry Arab News Service,” which features video in which a large and vocal group in Qatif are apparently chanting “Death to the House of Saud”:

That kind of material seems to warrant worldwide attention. And with that, we might reasonably expect the protests to grow. But the coverage has not come, nor the greater uprising.


Who’s to blame? Everyone, really. But based on its claim to be the gold standard, we focus on the New York Times. According to a search of the database Nexis-Lexis, the Times ran nothing at all on Qatif until Sunday November 27, when it featured a survey of turmoil throughout the region. A reference to Qatif was buried deep toward the end of the piece, where it would go almost unnoticed.

Yet the Times should have realized that it was looking at a pattern. After all, the paper did cover a previous incident in Qatif—back in March. It was a single article, with a Beirut dateline.

Saudi police officers opened fire at a protest march in a restive, oil-rich province on Thursday, wounding at least three people, according to witnesses and a Saudi government official.


Witnesses described the small protest march in the eastern city of Qatif as peaceful, but an Interior Ministry spokesman said demonstrators had attacked the police before the officers began firing, Reuters reported.


The clash with protesters in Qatif, located in a heavily Shiite region, underscored longstanding tensions in Saudi society: there is a sense among the Shiite minority that it is discriminated against by a government practicing a zealous form of Sunni orthodoxy.

No emphasis on the self-dealing, greed and barbarity that characterize the Saudi dictatorship. Ironically, that was when demonstrations in Libya were all over the news, with constant emphasis on Qaddafi’s infamy. Here are some New York Times headlines from Libya in the Spring:

Photographs Offer Graphic Evidence of Abuses Under Qaddafi

Time’s Up, Qaddafi (an opinion piece)

Libyan Rebels Complain of Deadly Delays Under NATO’s Command

Rape Victim Describes Her Ordeal

Qaddafi Forces Said to Lay Land Mines at City


So, what’s the real story in Saudi Arabia? December brought a report from the human rights group Amnesty International, covered as follows by BBC:

Saudi Arabia accused of repression after Arab Spring

Amnesty International has accused Saudi Arabia of reacting to the Arab Spring by launching a wave of repression. In a report, the human rights group said hundreds of people had been arrested, many of them without charge or trial.

Prominent reformists had been given long sentences following trials Amnesty called “grossly unfair”. So far unrest has largely been confined to the Shia minority in the east of the country.

….In its 73-page report published on Thursday, Amnesty accuses the Saudi authorities of arresting hundreds of people for demanding political and social reforms or for calling for the release of relatives detained without charge or trial.

The report says that sinceFebruary, when sporadic demonstrations began – in defiance of a permanent national ban on protests – the Saudi government has carried out a crackdown….

Since March, more than 300 people who took part in peaceful protests in Qatif, Ahsa and Awwamiya in the east have been detained, Amnesty says. Most have been released, often after promising not to protest again. Many face travel bans.

Last week 16 men, including nine prominent reformists, were given sentences ranging from five to 30 years in prison. Amnesty said they were blindfolded and handcuffed during their trial, while their lawyer was not allowed to enter the court for the first three sessions.

“Peaceful protesters and supporters of political reform in the country have been targeted for arrest in an attempt to stamp out the kinds of call for reform that have echoed across the region,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.


Amnesty says that the government continues to detain thousands of people on terrorism-related grounds. Torture and other ill-treatment in detention are widespread, it says – an allegation Saudi Arabia has always denied.


Amnesty says the government has drafted an anti-terror law that would effectively criminalise dissent as a “terrorist crime” and allow extended detention without charge or trial.

Questioning the integrity of the king would carry a minimum prison sentence of 10 years, according to Amnesty.


“Rather than deal with legitimate demands, the government is taking the easy route and blaming everything on a conspiracy by the Iranians,” said the activist, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions.

The takeaway from the Amnesty report is that demonstrators have been active in Saudi Arabia just as long as in Libya and elsewhere, and as consistently—and, as elsewhere, have been dealt with harshly by their government. Somehow, though, this is not deemed a sufficiently important story to cover.

Could it have something to do with Saudi Arabia’s indispensability as an ally and supplier of oil? In which case, traditional news reporting standards do not apply?

And did anyone ask the US government, so quick to condemn Qaddafi for his crackdown on demonstrators, if it had any reaction to the Saudi crackdown on demonstrators? Doesn’t look like it.

Meanwhile, what of this scapegoating of Iran for what seems to be authentic Saudi dissent? How does this dovetail with the overall western effort to characterize Iran as behind every nefarious act, even the ludicrous-sounding plot announced months ago by the White House, in which the Iranians were purportedly trying to recruit Mexican drug gangs to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US?

What of the buildup to an attack on Iran, through the rightwing government of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu— decried even by the heads of Israel’s own intelligence agencies as unjustified and dangerous?

How much of this larger play is about keeping the Saudi royal family in power, and taking care of the Western oil industry, and the “western way of life”?

Consider Libya vs Saudi Arabia. Two oil producers, one unpredictable and unreliable, one tight with the West. Heavy coverage of dissent in one, almost none in the other.


Saudis know better than to wait for the establishment media to get into the act.  One outlier that tends to be ahead of the pack, McClatchy Newspapers, just ran a piece on how Saudi dissidents are turning to YouTube to get their message out. Though Saudi Arabia’s high standard of living is a chestnut in media coverage, the dissidents highlight the disparities in the Kingdom in a homemade video:

One Saudi man he interviews has 11 children to feed and a net monthly income of $1,200, half of which goes to rent. The family has enough money left over only for flour and one meal a day. The imam at the local mosque reveals that in order to raise money for the household, the parents are sending out young sons to sell drugs, and the women engage in prostitution.


While the film doesn’t explicitly explain the “Monopoly” of its title, a leading Saudi human rights activist said in an interview that it comes down to one thing: “All the land is owned de facto and de jure by the royal family.”

The article notes that uprising hasn’t begun yet—in part because of apathy.

But how much is apathy, and how much is Saudis realizing that no one will come to their aid if they risk throwing off their shackles?  They cannot count on the handy boost the West gave to revolutions in nearby countries. Nor can they count on the Western media, which brays about its independence and initiative, but, increasingly, shows neither where the West’s precious oil supplies are involved.

Research Assistance: Myron Bretholz

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(From http://angryarab.blogspot.com/2011/11/chants-death-to-house-of-saud-in-qatif.html)

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one item you neglected to mention is that the saudi government is highly restrictive on news reporting in general and even more so when it comes to any expressions of dissent within its borders, and that’s probably an understatement when talking about one of the most repressive countries on earth… even in neighboring dubai – the islamic las vegas – what can be published is under tight control with the ruling sheiks acting harshly to ensure nothing negative appears in print about their fabled – and utterly soulless – utopia in the desert… china, no paragon of journalistic freedom, is positively liberal when compared to saudi arabia, our staunchest “ally” among the gulf states…


Russ Baker

they all are. so was Qaddafi.


For those interested in the history of Saudi cruelty against the opposition please be sure to read the good documented book of Said A. Aburish: “The Rise and Coming Fall of the House of Saud” (1995, Penguin Editions). Its just a shame to have those people still governing in the world. 

Dr. Elizabeth Pugh

What you have failed to mention, is that this area is 96% Iranian ancestry,  and are being funded by IRAN. Saudi Arabia is a welfare state and everything is paid for the Saudi families, house, food, education. Iran is trying to get a foothold in this region for obvious reasons….to destroy Saudi, like they have destroyed their own country and if given a chance, destroy the whole Middle East. They have already almost destroyed Bahrain, a beautiful country.

Russ Baker

Iranian ancestry? What, 500 years ago? And where do you get that information from? Besides, big swaths of Los Angeles have heavy Iranian ancestry, so what would you propose doing about that? Re Bahrain, you don’t suppose the dictatorship is a problem also?

S. F. Barakat

This is over 1430 year old religious conflict. The question is in return, will the Iranian give what they are asking for these people of rights to the at least %40 of the Iran population, who are Muslim Sunni? Ironically; these %40 live in the richest Iranian Oil fields, %90 of Iran Oil is produced from this area.

At least the Saudi are distributing some of the wealth, while on the other hand; Arabstan province is one of the poorest areas in Iran, with no rights.

Matt Prather

…and what you to fail to realize, Doctor, is that the Western media, law, military, and the financial system have officially crossed the line over into mafia rule or fascism.

We have two classes of justice at this point — for the common people we have to obey all the laws, be they just, be they ridiculous, or be they unjust; we have high costs in our access to capital (be it in student debt or costs of starting up a businesses), and the news services lie to us constantly about our future. For the elite class (think MF Global for one), they have a backstage pass to get out of jail free, access to capital at 1% interest or less, and they have the power to move the ship of state in the direction they deem.

The Iran bogey man is a myth that the good little citizens in the west are encouraged to believe in so that they don’t question the use of the military to take over the whole world, at the cost of the economic destruction of the lowest, poorest classes of citizens. Look at what is happening in America — the poor and the young have been thrown under the bus by international global businesses interests — they will have no jobs or future unless 1: they are willing to compete with Chinese-style slave capitalism, and 2: they are lucky enough to be one of the relative few who can land a job in the saturated job market.

The real bad man is the elite Western tyrants who are trying to take over the world and institute themselves as the unassailable masters of the planet atop the media, the military, the money, and the international law.


In our “democratic police state” there is obviously no free press among the traditional media – McClatchy Newspapers excepted . They’re either scared stiff or voluntarily, obediently toeing the official government line.


You are so good. The game is to blame all unrest of ethnic troubles. Blame it on the Shiites, but leave the Regimes and Royals out of the lime light. 

The Founders did the same thing rabbiting on and on in their Federalist Papers about the “mob” and their fears of “factions” and instability, blah blah blah, but about themselves the Elite White Men who knew from watching their King that they have to play one group off the other too in order to hold power? …they say not one word! Nor, do they take any measures at all in our Constitutional Institutions to forestall the easy slide of any Democracy or Republic into Oligarchy and Dictatorship. 

Bravo! You’re putting your finger on the biggest norm of history writing and journalism that needs outing now and finally has to go. It is like the German people, German psyche, German anything took all the heat for Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, but nothing at all about bankers behind financial collapses, Monarchists behind demolition of the Democracy, Military Industrialists backing Fascist Pols, or Mass Media controlled by propagandists to seed fear and loathing and conspiracy theories into the minds of infinitely worried ordinary people. Those people then who were reduced to struggling for their daily bread in hard uncertain times, much like Americans now are…amidst plenty of lies about Muslims, Latinos, Iranians, Gays, “Liberals”, Palestinians…anybody but the real perpetrators of the real conditions!  This is the story of a life time! 


RE: your Arab Muslim stories and the KUNM show today:

Well I liked the show but I have to comment  that Mr. Baker, while well intentioned, is completely mis-informed about Al Jazeera. I am fully aware that Al Jazeera gets its money (360 million) from the Emir of Qatar. However, that is much different from Monsanto, Ford, JP Morgan etc. etc. Al Jazeera is independant – read and watch the debates they have on their broadcasts and  their website (many of the commentators are as radical anti-corporate as you are). It is not pro-American in the least, it achieves more objectivity than any other news outlet. I think Mr. Baker did people a dis-service of huge proportions by discounting Al Jazeera on KUNM today. If he watched the continuous live stream he would see real time news for free (something we DON’T have in America and a key to staying informed of the truth – real time headline news can’t be censored and twisted so easily until it is an hour old and subject to the “spin doctors.”) Secondly, Al Jazeera has taken on the most incredible reporting and put it free at our fingertips on You Tube and Al Jazeera.com. There are environmental reports you won’t get anywhere else, reports on slavery and human trafficking, reports on the Maoists in India and Nepal and the Shining Path in Peru and each report includes a reporter actually present with the subjects whereever they are hiding or with the enslaved woman or child or with the Rebel in Misrata trying to survive. Our progressive media has really failed due to the reaction to Libya. Qadaffi was wrong and he was a criminal. Yes he was anti-US (Rah Rah for the anti-colonialism aspect of his rule) but the fact that the US and NATO helped the Rebels does not de-legitimize their efforts and their cause or the incredible coverage provided by Al Jazeera. It just does not add up – yet, because oil was involved and the Western powers helped out, the left has to immediately assume there are Neo-Con forces at work. The independent media created by the PEOPLE in Libya and the incredible sacrifices of the Rebels completely undermines the Baker critique of Al Jazeera and Qatar. In reality, there is nothing that comes close to Al Jazeera on the world stage. It is the great equilizer in media and the biggest force for real change and real media because of what its programming is and because it is based in a small country with tons of money and they have the least need to protect a covert global agenda (the fate of orthodox Sunni religion in Saudi Arabia is not that big a deal and they repeatedly have covered the Shia revolt in Bahrain – c’mon- they do more than anyone else has that I’ve seen – they covered the Bahraini doctors and kept the spotlight ON). When they interviewed John Perry Barlow it was obvious that this network is plugged in at the grass roots everywhere. Ultimately, I was thinking that Russ Baker would do well to network his blogging with Al Jazeera until another independant and well funded media organization comes along that is as un-biased as they are; and as far reaching with their locally based reporting. Today’s media is dependent on locally based, grass roots journalists connected to all of us through the best possible mix of mass and micro media outlets incuding phone, computer and TV. This discussion was invigorating today, but, when we tinge free-media with our traditional liberal agendas (me included) we do dis-service to our discussion and our legacy. Mr. Baker has an honorable goal, but he may not achieve much success on a long term sustainable scale if he does not engage the reality that a well funded and independant organization like Al Jazeera, while not perfect, is certainly the best tool for reclaiming the true role of the media to spur the goals he espouses and to promote a truly global consciousness.     


Thank you for your comments and I question whether you are  a disinform agent,i.e. trol as you seem to be so misinformed about what is actually happening in the world.Do some research on what actually happened in Libya and how this country was the most progressive in Africa.Check out the gold Dinar that Gadaffi wanted to use as the trading standard for Africa.http://thenewamerican.com/economy/markets-mainmenu-45/9743-gadhafis-gold-money-plan-would-have-devastated-dollar
Check out “The assassination of Gaddafi -The Corbette Reort”http://www.corbettreport.com/the-assassination-of-gaddafi-grtv-backgrounder/
Check out http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=75929&Cat=9
This is just a starter,lots more if you really want to know .
I suspect much the same is going on as we write,in Syria
You talk about global consciousness  and this is an impressive word but just the same Al Jazeera prints and says what it is  allowed to print and say ,just like the Murdock Corp.of mis-disinformation , not so global consciousness raising,is it.
I also watch Al Jazeera from time to time ,but I have no illusions about the veracity of its editorials.
Namaste .


Yes I reviewed Michel Collon’s material and he is again a far left apologist/activist who is not in touch with reality for the most part.  He thinks Libya would have been better off to wait for the Arab League to mediate with Hugo Chavez.  Just like the 5000 dead Syrians have benefited from the stonewalling of self interested political moves by the Russians and Chinese who tell them to wait for the Arab League.  That is waiting for slow suicide to be accomplished for people who spent 8 months in non-violent uprising and who are being slaughtered as a result.  Meanwhile, the Russians and the Chinese would like Al Jazeera to shut up and go away, but they will not.  Check out their piece on the Shining Path in Peru or their piece on the Maoists in eastern India.  I mean really, really?  no really, if you want real news on the ground at the grass roots level you will watch Al jazeera and be educated about what is happening all over the world.  If you want the left wing equivalent of Fox News then you will think that people like Michel Collon can actually provide you with realistic perspectives of what is happening in the world.  I love local, grassroots based operations, I am part of one myself, however, you have to make the connection to that which is capable of maximizing quality and insight when it is at your fingertips and you can’t touch Al Jazeera with any other media outlet on the planet right now.  Of course they are going to take the same kind of heat from the left that Martin Luther King took from Malcolm X, but when we get to the point of looking back on history we will know that both were essential and both were sincere, yet one actually stimulated the direct change that is needed to evolve society forward more than the other.



It was not about Michel Colon, its about employees of Al Jazeera in Brussels being forced to cook news about Syria. Here an other one: look at who far they go s far to exploit children calling to overthrow the regime. I dont think I ever saw such professionalism in world media : 


Of course, its not on the Al Jazeera they show in English, its the Arab one you must see! 


Yes Al Jazeera is also a propaganda tool.Even the insiders know it also.Thanks for the link.


Yes, but they are ALL propaganda tools.

It’s up to readers to sort things out.

You get no guarantees with articles anywhere.

Sorting things out requires the same kind of effort you do on research for an academic paper.

Farin Sohrab

What a stupid article, Saudi Arabia is the most democratic country in the world, where women can drive cars, become ministers and shake hands with Obama or Bush and travel alone overseas, this article is biased…………..ha ha


well I am Saudi Arabian I dun think that we have problems in Saudi Arabia, and as everyone knows it’s one of the most wealthiest country in the world. everyone can get a scolaership to a lot of countries without paying nothing. If you are a saudi arbian you can get around 500$ if you dun have a job. we dun pay taxes we have a cheap gas we have everything and not just because a small group.. let me tell you something The word “FREEDOM” in Saudi Arabia and Islam does not have the same meaning that you find in Oxford. wearing whatever you want or eating whatever you want  to eat does not exist in our dictionary. My mom is a Doctor and my sister are doctors. the have thier rights. they live in Jeddah Saudi and their happy in Saudi eventho we are also Saudi Candian we prefer to stay and live in Saudi.

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