January 8, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5124

Saudi Columnist: Substantial Political Reforms Are Necessary In Saudi Arabia

January 8, 2013
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5124

Khalid Al-Dakhil, a columnist for the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, devoted two columns to the potential repercussions of the Arab Spring for Saudi Arabia. He argued that the country cannot disassociate itself from the changes wrought by the Arab Spring in the region, and must not be complacent. Rather, he said, its regime should enact substantial political and economic reforms in order to preserve its stability and prevent a slide towards anarchy, as happened in Syria.

The following are excerpts from the two columns:

Khalid Al-Dakhil[1]

Saudi Arabia Cannot Be Disconnected From The Changes In The Arab World

In the first column, published December 16, 2012, Al-Dakhil wrote: "...There is a near consensus that the Arab World will never again be the same as it was before the [Arab] Spring. The popular attitude in the region is rapidly changing, as is clearly indicated by [what is happening on] the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Kuwait, and by the battles that have been raging throughout Syria for 20 months... Those who follow Twitter in the Arab world, especially in Saudi Arabia, will notice that the change in popular attitudes is not unique to countries in which the spring storm has occurred. The [people's] positions and opinions, and [their] social, political, economic, and even religious demands, indicate aspirations and courage... The change in popular attitudes means that the political culture in the region has rapidly changed, which begs attention... Terms like 'rights,' 'constitution,' and 'democracy' have become very common... after being forbidden [for many years]... This change in popular attitudes, and in the political map and political culture, in both the Arab Spring countries and elsewhere, will bring about a change in the concept of the Arab state itself...

"We do not know how this change will end, but it is a cause of concern... In Syria, the country is changing via bloodshed caused by the ruling regime. In Tunisia and Egypt [on the other hand], the country is changing in a more political and rational way, at least thus far. In Libya there is a third path – it began [with bloodshed] like in Syria, but now it has shifted to the Tunisian and Egyptian way. In Yemen there is a fourth path, and in Kuwait, Morocco and Jordan, a fifth. The second path [as in Tunisia and Egypt] and the fifth path [as in Morocco and Jordan] are the preferred and most rational [options].

"I do not think that Saudi Arabia should fear [these developments], but neither should it be complacent. Saudi Arabia is not, nor can it be, disconnected from these events. It is an inseparable part of the Arab world, and is currently at the heart of this world as one of its main pillars... If the Arab political culture is changing, then the Saudi political culture cannot be detached from this change... since it is part of the Arab culture and political makeup. It is affected by it and must affect it..."[2]

The Relationship Between The People And The Regime Must Change

In the second column, published the following week, Al-Dakhil again called upon the Saudi regime to understand the transformations occurring throughout the region, so as to lead them and not be led by them. He said that Saudi Arabia has so far managed to weather the Arab Spring storm, but that this storm brings new tidings regarding the relationship between the regime and the people, and requires a new perception:

"...The main [implication of the Arab Spring] storm is a change in the political character of this state, which has been constant since its establishment after the First World War. [Its character is] based on a single political principle... namely that the relationship between the state and the people is unidirectional: the leadership versus the people [meaning that the people cannot make demands of the regime]. This [situation] suited the social and political circumstances half a century or more ago, but the Arab Spring storm... undermines this perception... There is no arguing that these relations must change. The question is how this change will come about..."

He then called on the Saudi regime to enact not only economic reforms but also substantial political reforms: "...We must rid ourselves of the phenomenon of officials who hold their positions for decades, [and we must] operate the Hayat Al-Bay'a[3] mechanism and establish the process of transfer of power on a stable legal basis... We must gradually expand the authority of the Shura Council and slowly transform it into an elected legislative body.

"All this requires constitutional changes that will enable a separation of powers, and Saudi Arabia's entrance into a new constitutional phase..."[4]


[1] Image: Al-Hayat (London).

[2] Al-Hayat (London), December 16, 2012.

[3] The Saudi Allegiance Council – the body responsible for appointing the Saudi King and Crown Prince. It was established in October 2006 by King 'Abdallah and includes the sons and grandsons of King 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Saud.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), December 23, 2012.

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