Guernica notes that while recent uprisings in Egypt, Syria, et cetera received plenty of sympathetic press coverage, the third rail seems to be Saudi Arabia, with the Western media refusing to report on serious unrest that has occurred there this year:
Hear the one about the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia that nobody noticed?No, this is not a joke. With the Syrian regime, long out of favor with the West, we heard about the uprising from the beginning. 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.
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.
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.” 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.
Yet the Times should have realizing 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.”
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 U.S. 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 U.S.?