Saudi Islamists and the Potential for Protest

(Foreign Policy) Stephane Lacroix - Saudi Arabia has remained fairly quiet during the recent months of Arab uprisings. A few demonstrations did take place, mostly in the Eastern Province, but never gathered more than a couple of thousands. The real reason that Saudi Arabia has not seen major protests is that the Saudi regime has effectively co-opted the Sahwa (or al-Sahwa al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Awakening), the powerful Islamist network which would have to play a major role in any sustained mobilization of protests. Like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Sahwa in Saudi Arabia is by far the largest and best organized nonstate group, with arguably hundreds of thousands of members. Its mobilizing capacity is huge. In the 2005 municipal elections, in most districts of the major cities, Sahwa-backed candidates won with impressive scores. Sahwis may not start the protest, but it won't succeed without them. While Islamist movements in most countries developed on the margins of the state, the Sahwa was the product of the co-optation of foreign members of the Muslim Brotherhood into the Saudi state in the 1950s and 1960s. The fear of losing the very favorable position that the Sahwa occupies has, until now, represented a key obstacle to its transformation into a real opposition movement.

2011-06-03 00:00:00

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