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Mideast uprisings - update on Saudi and Bahrain

Date and Time: 
Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 12:00 - 12:30

On Tuesday March 22 at noon Eastern time, GlobalPost's Riyadh-based correspondent Caryle Murphy answered members' questions on the uprising in Bahrain and on whether the same could erupt in Saudi.

11:50 Caryle_Murphy Hello Everyone. Greetings from a very calm part of the world. We'll begin in about 8 minutes
12:00 GlobalPost Hello everyone, thanks for joining us today for another GlobalPost Chat.
12:00 GlobalPost Today we are most fortunate to have the spectacular Caryle Murphy with us today.
12:01 GlobalPost Caryle is based in Saudi Arabia where she has been reporting on the impacts of the protest movements sweeping the region.
12:01 GlobalPost Hi Caryle, thanks for being here today.
12:01 Caryle_Murphy It's my pleasure.
12:01 GlobalPost First, tell us briefly what the latest is in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. What is the current state of affairs?
12:02 Caryle_Murphy Well, Riyadh is n oasis of calm. As our readers no doubt know...
12:02 Caryle_Murphy the so-called Day of Rage call for protests here on march 11
12:02 Caryle_Murphy did not see any protests materialize.
12:02 Caryle_Murphy there have been some small protests however both before and after march 11
12:03 Caryle_Murphy by relatives of people detained without charge or trial for many years
12:03 Caryle_Murphy these people have protested outside the Ministry of Interior
12:03 Caryle_Murphy and the Shiite minority has also held regular protests in the Eastern
12:03 Caryle_Murphy Province where they mostly live
12:04 Caryle_Murphy they also are demanding the releease of people held without charge
12:04 Caryle_Murphy and they lately have protested against the Saudi dispatch of around 1,200 of its soldiers
12:04 Caryle_Murphy to Bahrain...
12:04 Caryle_Murphy Now, Bahrain has gotten pretty quiet since the government
12:04 Caryle_Murphy crackdown there last week. Lots of people arrested, and police are using
12:05 Caryle_Murphy some pretty harsh tactics. It's been shocking to everyone who's
12:05 Caryle_Murphy familiar with Bahrain, which they know as a pretty moderate, safe, place
12:05 GlobalPost In Saudi Arabia, why do you think the protests have not spread more widely as they have elsewhere in the region?
12:06 Caryle_Murphy Well that's a good question. For one, the saudi government has a lot of money
12:06 Caryle_Murphy and it has doled out alot to its citizens in various forms...
12:06 Caryle_Murphy unemployment insurance (for the first time in the kingdom)
12:06 Caryle_Murphy money for mortgages
12:07 Caryle_Murphy new hospitals etc
12:07 Caryle_Murphy The king has announced two major economic packages since
12:07 Caryle_Murphy he got back from his three months abroad for surgery
12:07 Caryle_Murphy Okay, there's other reasons why there were no protests on March 11
12:07 Caryle_Murphy Saudis are very conservative. They don't, generally believe in the culture of
12:08 Caryle_Murphy street protests. And they are very religious. They listen, for the most part, to thier
12:08 Caryle_Murphy religious leaders who were tellling them that it is religiously wrong to protest
12:08 Caryle_Murphy Thirdly, people genuinely like King Abdullah who is seen as a good-hearted
12:08 Caryle_Murphy benevolent king.
12:09 Caryle_Murphy That sentiment, however, does not extend to the rest of the royal family
12:09 Caryle_Murphy There is a lot of resentment towards them
12:09 Caryle_Murphy but that brings me to the last reason there were no protests
12:09 Caryle_Murphy The call for protests came from people based outside the kingdom
12:09 Caryle_Murphy and they were not known. They made a call on Facebook and nobody inside
12:10 Caryle_Murphy the country knew who they were.
12:10 GlobalPost Interesting, so do you think there is any chance that a mass protest movement could arise in Saudi?
12:10 GlobalPost or would arise?
12:11 Caryle_Murphy I do not see the conditions for that right now. However, I do think that if the
12:11 Caryle_Murphy government does not start moving to some type of political reforms in order
12:11 Caryle_Murphy to give the middle class here some ability to participate in decision making
12:12 Caryle_Murphy then I think that in the future there will be major problems
12:12 Caryle_Murphy The people clamoring for political reforms are only a slice of society here
12:12 Caryle_Murphy they certainly do not include the vast majority as we saw in Egypt
12:13 Caryle_Murphy However it is a GROWING slice of the society.
12:13 GlobalPost What is the significance of Saudi Arabia sending 1,200 soldiers to Bahrain last week?
12:13 Caryle_Murphy It's a huge, big deal. And it all goes back to the rivalry between
12:13 Caryle_Murphy Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims
12:14 Caryle_Murphy The ruling royal families of both Saudi and Bahrain are Sunnis
12:15 Caryle_Murphy And while the majority of Saudis are Sunni, the majority of Bahrainis are Shiites
12:15 Caryle_Murphy Now, what makes this rivalry toxic is that Iran, which puts itself out as a champion of Shiites
12:16 Caryle_Murphy is regarded as an interloper in the Arab world. And the Saudi government is adamant
12:16 Caryle_Murphy that Iran will not get the opportunity to get the upperhand in Bahrain, as it
12:16 Caryle_Murphy has done in Iraq, where Iran has close ties to the Shiite majority
12:16 Caryle_Murphy But returning to ur question: Now that the Saudis have gone in, how and when are they
12:17 Caryle_Murphy going to get out? Are they going to stay forever to stop any kind of political reform??
12:17 Caryle_Murphy Unknown.
12:17 Caryle_Murphy And by the way,
12:17 Caryle_Murphy Iran is making hay with this.
12:17 Caryle_Murphy In the vein of the pot calling the kettle black,
12:18 Caryle_Murphy Iran criticized the Saudis for helping Bahrain stifle opposition in the streets
12:18 Caryle_Murphy As if Iran forgot what it did to its own opposition in 2009
12:18 GlobalPost So, then, in Bahrain, is it primarily the Shiite majority that is taking to the streets?
12:19 Caryle_Murphy Well, yes. If you have a country whose population if 60 to 70 percent Shiite, then it's
12:19 Caryle_Murphy likely that most of your protesters will be Shiite
12:19 Caryle_Murphy Most reporters who were there when the protests began, noted that
12:20 Caryle_Murphy the protesters were calling for democratic reforms, they waved the Bahraini flag
12:20 Caryle_Murphy there were no sectarian demands
12:20 Caryle_Murphy However, as the weeks wore on the government got more and more nervous
12:20 Caryle_Murphy and began to accuse the protestors of being backed by Iran
12:20 Caryle_Murphy Now, I have no doubt that some among the protesters may see Iran as
12:21 Caryle_Murphy a big brother who could help them. But I think most protesters are Bahraini nationalists
12:21 Caryle_Murphy first
12:21 Caryle_Murphy and not Iranian agents
12:21 Caryle_Murphy Also, you can't forget that
12:21 Caryle_Murphy like Iraqis Shiites, the Bahrainis are Arabs
12:22 Caryle_Murphy while the Iranians are a different ethnic group: Persians
12:22 Caryle_Murphy And Arabs have never wanted to be ruled by Persians
12:22 Caryle_Murphy And Arabs have never wanted to be ruled by Persians
12:23 GlobalPost So before we wrap this up, let's talk about the U.S. role for a minute
12:23 Caryle_Murphy mmm
12:23 GlobalPost How has the U.S. responded to the protests in Bahrain?
12:23 Caryle_Murphy Well, it's been ambivalent. You can read what it has said and done two ways
12:23 Caryle_Murphy It did not criticize the Saudis for sending in troops, one.
12:24 Caryle_Murphy But it has publicly criticized the Bahraini ruling family for not
12:24 Caryle_Murphy offering a credible reform platform to the opposition. This was very evident
12:24 Caryle_Murphy after Sec Gates visit to Bahrain about ten days ago. He told reporters on the record
12:25 Caryle_Murphy that the royal family was not doing enough
12:25 Caryle_Murphy And Hillary Clinton said the Bahraini government was going in the wrong direction
12:25 Caryle_Murphy But we must keep in mind that Bahrain is home to the headquarters of the US Navy's 5th Fleet
12:26 Caryle_Murphy and it is not anxious to see a REVOLUTION there, as in Egypt
12:26 Caryle_Murphy It prefers that the royal family stay in place, but with some adjustments
12:26 Caryle_Murphy to accommodate rising political expectations of the Shiite majority
12:27 GlobalPost So do you think that for this reason U.S. foreign policy in the region has been somewhat inconsistent, comparing Bahrain, Saudi and Yemen to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya?
12:27 Caryle_Murphy You know that is common complaint I read about US foreign policy
12:28 Caryle_Murphy But I think that if it's not inconsistent, then it would be ineffectual and wrong. What do I mean?
12:28 Caryle_Murphy People tend to think that the Arab world is monochromatic
12:28 Caryle_Murphy It's not. Every country is different. They share many things--language and culture
12:29 Caryle_Murphy with each other, but Arab countries have different characteristics and also differenet priorities
12:29 Caryle_Murphy in US national interests.
12:30 Caryle_Murphy So, I think it is wise of Washington to try to tailor its overall policy (hopefully to support democratic changes and human rights respect)
12:30 Caryle_Murphy to each country in terms of what, realistically, will work in that particular nation
12:31 GlobalPost Great point. And I think that's a great place to wrap this up.
12:31 GlobalPost Thanks so much Caryle for joining us today and for all your insights
12:31 Caryle_Murphy You are welcome and I enjoyed it. Bye for now.
12:31 GlobalPost Take care and thanks to everyone who joined us.
12:32 GlobalPost This is GlobalPost, signing off...