Friday, October 08, 2010

Saudi Arabia's Accelerating Social Unrest

Another blank page item - Saudi Arabia's Accelerating Social Unrest

"Saudi labour law" is something of an oxymoron, as even native Saudi workers have few of the employment rights typically guaranteed in developed countries. Unfortunately for the oil sheikhs, many of the large contingent of foreign workers come from countries where standards are, if only on paper, more up-to-date. In late September, Chinese contract laborers employed in the construction of a Metro system in Mecca went on strike for a week. Translators were required to inform Saudi police that the workers had not been paid for months. According to Saudi media, Mecca police intervened to obtain a promise of payment for the strikers, who then went back to work.

Protests over women's rights, labor grievances, and general liberties constitute a growing challenge to the Saudi rulers. In the realm of free communications, blogging and internet news sites have spread exponentially; a heated discussion broke out when the Saudi Ministry of Information domestic media supervisor, Abdulrahman Al-Hazzaa, announced on Al-Arabiyya television that a new electronic media law would require government registration of bloggers. Facebook and Twitter users were particularly outraged by the suggestion they might come under government control. Al-Hazaa quickly "clarified" that on-line news sites would require licensing, but that bloggers would merely be "encouraged" to register.

In the controversy, Al-Hazaa delivered a revealing remark about Saudi bloggers: "There are so many," he said, "we cannot control them". The comment could also apply to other advocates of human rights in the kingdom – Saudi women opposed to Wahhabi "morals" strictures, foreign workers of both sexes, and, above all, the young.

Social forces are developing, pressing with growing insistence against the bonds of the repressive Saudi state.

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