The Daily Need

The view from Saudi Arabia

A Saudi man rides his bike by the Masmak Fortress (Qasre al-Masmak) in the old part of Riyadh in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Photo: AP/Hasan Sarbakhshian

NPR’s Deborah Amos is currently reporting from Saudi Arabia. I reached her via phone to find out how Saudis — both royal and regular — are reacting to the events unfolding in Egypt.

LAUREN FEENEY: King Abdullah has been on Mubarak’s side since protesters began calling for his ouster 17 days ago. Why is that?

DEBORAH AMOS: First of all, they are close personal friends, and that counts for a lot amongst leaders.

The second thing is that Saudi and Egyptian intelligence is closely linked. They are each others’ closest allies on issues like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran….

I heard from diplomats here that there were younger princes who thought it was time for Mubarak to go. They will be comfortable with the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed forces. The UAE has made an official statement supporting Council rule and in the next couple of days we’ll hear other countries in the region do the same.

FEENEY: That’s the official line, but what about regular people? Are they feeling inspired by today’s events?

AMOS: I have to say that I talk mostly to English speakers here, particularly that 20 percent who are liberal, and they are ecstatic. They are celebrating. Not openly — they are doing it at home.

There is a disconnect between the younger generation — 70 percent of Saudis are under the age of 30 — and many were inspired by the resolve they saw on the streets of Cairo.

FEENEY: Where do most Saudis get their news of the events unfolding in Egypt?

AMOS: They’re watching Twitter, YouTube, Al Jazeera. They also watch Al Arabiya, which is a government station. But they talk to each other, and that’s what’s so amazing. The Facebook activists here know the Facebook activists in Egypt; they’ve met them. Before January 25th, no Arab government thought that was dangerous.

FEENEY: Despite the excitement young Saudis may be feeling today, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be seeing a revolution in Saudi Arabia any time soon….

AMOS: I think the rich Gulf countries have time, and they have money to solve problems. They do have some of the same problems, like youth unemployment. Unemployment among youth creates instability, so it is a wake up call to all of them. They will be working much harder to figure out how to turn around an economy based on oil where still you have unemployment going up. They have to promote the private sector, that’s going to be a real revolution here.

FEENEY: The ousted Tunisian president took refuge in Saudi Arabia. Is the country considered a possible future home for Mubarak?

AMOS: I think many Saudis would not like that to happen. I am told by diplomats that he was offered to come to Saudi Arabia, but Mubarak has said he will die on Egyptian soil, and at the moment it looks like the military will give him that dignity. He is now in Sharm el-Sheikh, on the Egyptian coast. The idea of sneaking off to another Arab country would be more than he could manage.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

 
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