Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Saudi rebellion 

The Straits Times (Singapore) says "Rebellion Brewing in Saudi City." That's an eye-grabbing headline, but the article itself isn't very convincing.

Al-Jouf has witnessed an extraordinary level of political violence in recent months.

The deputy governor, say local residents, was assassinated.

Also shot down was the police chief, executed by a group of men who forced their way into his home.

Even before these bloody incidents, the region's top Syariah Court judge was shot down as he drove to work early one morning.

Seven men have so far been arrested over the shootings, according to Saudi officials.

They admit that the attacks are linked, and that the seven may have been aided by as many as 40 others.
So three officials have been killed in recent months. It could be "the beginning of a revolution against the ruling al-Saud family" as the article suggests, but it sounds more like someone has a grudge against their local officials rather than revolutionary ambitions.

The region in question is the home of a prominent branch of the Al-Saud royal family, which appears to be the only evidence in support of a political motive. The article points to an overall rise in crime in the Al-Jouf region, which might help to explain the killings:

Archaeological sites, defaced by the graffiti of the alienated, are also littered with the evidence of widespread drug abuse.
Given that information, it's entirely plausible that the three officials were not killed for political reasons, but were, perhaps, cracking down on crime, and criminals wanted them out of the way. None of that is mentioned in the article, but it seems a reasonable assumption. While making a vague statement that the "vast Al-Sudairy clan" has "ruled the roost" in the region for decades, the article does not directly link the murdered deputy governor, police chief, and judge to the Al-Saud family, which is further evidence against a rebellious motive. They were officials of the Saudi state, and as such representatives of the royal family. But the article does not say that they were royals themselves.

Local displeasure with the royal family is mentioned, but that hardly seems unusual in Saudi Arabia. A lot of people in the kingdom are not happy with their rulers. But it seems premature to couch three murders in terms of a nascent rebellion. Assassinations of officials happen occasionally in Saudi Arabia, and the Straits Times has left me unconvinced that the events in Al-Jouf are a significant departure from the norm.

(Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

UPDATE: Same author, slightly different article in The Independent. More detail about the scope of nationwide opposition to Al-Saud rule.
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