Why Iranians Are in the Streets While Saudis Are—For Now—Content

Saudi Arabia is, if anything, less democratic than Iran. Its citizens have limited rights, and, like the Islamic Republic, its religiously conservative government imposes many restraints on its populace. So why, asks Elliott Abrams, are Iranians demonstrating against their rulers en masse while Saudis seem unperturbed by the status quo?

Part of the answer is found in the expectations game: while [the Saudi crown prince] Mohammed bin Salman (known as MbS) surprised Saudis by pushing unexpectedly for social and economic modernization, [the Iranian president Hassan] Rouhani promised both political and economic improvement and has not delivered on either. Popular patience with Rouhani has clearly run out. . . .

By contrast, it seems to many Saudis that the crown prince has figured out that change is the only thing that will save the House of Saud. The old model of elderly brothers ruling in succession, of an unproductive economy saved by revenues from $120-per-barrel oil, of the clerics preventing anything new that smacked of the 21st (or even the 20th) century, was becoming a formula for disaster. Time will run out some day for MbS if he cannot deliver on his promises. But young Saudis will give him the chance to try.

Beyond the issue of expectations there lies the critical question of legitimacy. The great sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote in 1959, “Legitimacy involves the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate or proper ones for the society.”. . . . In our Western view, democratic legitimacy is the best and strongest form, but monarchic legitimacy exists in several Arab nations, especially in the Gulf. . . . Iran today, [however], is a fake republic kept in place only by brutal repression. . . .

For now, Iranians are disgusted with the refusal of their rulers to allow change and reform despite their repeated promises, while Saudis are surprised and apparently pleased by their rulers’ insistence on change. Saudis will give MbS time, but their heightened expectations mean that if he fails and the kingdom starts returning to the past, there will be trouble in the streets.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Arab Spring, Democracy, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount