Saudis Transfixed By Protests In Egypt
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The protests in Egypt, as well as in Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen and elsewhere send a clear message. The future of the Arab world is up for grabs. The authoritarian order has been shaken.
NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she says Saudis witnessing these historic events have been changed.
DEBORAH AMOS: Thousands have downloaded this YouTube video of a Saudi father interviewing his daughter.
(Soundbite of YouTube video)
Unidentified Man: Georgia(ph), what would you say to president of Egypt now if you were talking to him? What advice would you give him?
AMOS: Then, this young Saudi in pink pajamas gives her best political advice to Egypt's president.
(Soundbite of YouTube video)
GEORGIA: I would tell him to remove that law about letting him be the president forever and let the people of Egypt vote. 'Cause if you don't, they're going to be on TV forever.
AMOS: Speaking in such a public way is unusual for a Saudi, even more so for a young Saudi girl. Some are calling this the Al-Jazeera effect, after the Arabic language satellite station that has broadcast coverage nonstop from Tunisia and now from Egypt.
Greg Gause is a U.S. academic and a Middle East specialist.
Professor GREG GAUSE (Political Science, University of Vermont): Watching the news in another Arab country and seeing what's happening on the street gives you a sense of what you can do. Everything that I read in Saudi Arabia, media, the blogs, Facebook postings, people were focused on Tunisia, but they're obsessed with Egypt.
AMOS: In cafes, restaurants, in tweets and family gatherings, Saudis all talk about the news.
This is news, says Eman Al Nafjan, who writes a popular blog here. She explains that most Saudis don't watch Al-Jazeera. The government considers its broadcast anti-Saudi, but lots of Saudis are tuning in now.
Ms. EMAN AL NAFJAN (Blogger): Everybody's watching here. Did you hear, did you see - that sort of thing.
AMOS: Do you think that it will change the way people think in Saudi Arabia after having spent all these days watching a street protest in Cairo and Alexandria and across the country?
Ms. AL NAFJAN: Definitely. Especially if they succeed in creating a democracy and not having another Islamic revolution, just as in Iran. It would change everybody's perception of what Arabs can do.
AMOS: If pressed for a model, many site Turkey, a successful democracy with a government led by conservative Muslims. Saudi Arabia appears insulated from any immediate challenge from the street. While youth unemployment is high here, forty-four percent of the unemployed are college graduates, oil wells gives the country's elites more flexibility when it comes to buying public support, says Gause.
Prof. GAUSE: I don't think that there's going to be a direct effect in Saudi Arabia. I don't think there's going to be revolution tomorrow.
AMOS: Still, almost every day the government promotes another new program to create more jobs - programs that have taken on a new urgency in the wake of Tunisia and Egypt. The future is underway, says Gause.
Prof. GAUSE: I certainly think that all the Gulf state leaders are preparing for a post-Mubarak Middle East.
AMOS: The authoritarians systems of the Gulf would be shaken by Mubarak's departure, he says. But Egypt's president leads an entire system of government that includes a powerful army, a security service and elite who want to continue to benefit from the system as it is.
Prof. GAUZE: If Mubarak goes, but the regime in general stays, I don't think that's a big deal for the Gulf states. If the whole regime comes down and is replaced by something completely different, then the Middle East is a changed place.
AMOS: Many individual Saudis say they're been changed already, inspired by what they see on the streets of Egypt. But others say the story in Egypt is far from clear. I'm torn, says one businessman. I would like to celebrate. I've seen the goal line, but the game isn't over yet.
Deborah Amos, NPR News, Riyadh.
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