Saudis Uneasy Amid Arab Unrest
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
NPR's Deborah Amos is in Qatar's capital, Doha. And Deb, with so much at stake for the Saudis, how are they handling the revolts on their borders?
DEBORAH AMOS: Well, according to diplomats and regional specialists, the Saudis are extremely worried because every certainty has been undermined by these pro-democracy movements, including their relationship with the United States. They were unhappy with how the U.S. handled Egypt. They are watching how the U.S. handles the uprising in Bahrain. It has been unsettling to all the Gulf monarchies. They thought that they were immune from these uprisings. Now, we have one in Bahrain, so everybody is watching how this one turns out.
SIEGEL: There's the fact that the protesters in Bahrain are mostly Shiite, and they're demanding democracy from a Sunni royal family. Does that have a special resonance for the Saudis?
AMOS: In fact, last week, a very rare protest in the Saudi town of Qatif, where people went out on the streets because they wanted political dissidents released from jail. And in fact, the interior ministry did just that. A Saudi in Riyadh said to me today that the government doesn't want to provoke any unrest in the eastern province, so they wanted to avoid any sparks of protests.
SIEGEL: Now, as you've said, the Saudis may be questioning the reliability of their alliance with the United States, and there seems to be some divergence of national interests and values. Today, the Saudis, in a very rare public rebuke, expressed regret over a U.S. vote at the United Nations.
AMOS: The issue was the U.S. veto of a draft U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Now, the kingdom sees itself as the defender of Palestinian right. But to make that public statement was another sign of Saudi unease over this popular mood that's sweeping the region, very unusual for the Saudis to do.
SIEGEL: Does it affect matters that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has been out of the kingdom for medical treatment for several months?
AMOS: It does, Robert, because it raises questions of succession. The king is 87 years old. He is in failing health. So is the crown prince. He is in his early 80s. The next in line is Prince Nayef. He is a conservative. And so I think that there is uncertainty in the kingdom whether King Abdullah's policies - he's a reformer - will continue when succession takes place.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Deborah Amos speaking to us from Doha, the capital of Qatar. Deb, thank you.
AMOS: Thank you, Robert.
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