EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Few noticed a rare protest that took place in Saudi Arabia in late January 2011 as a wave of popular uprisings swept the Middle East and North Africa, toppling the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Yet that protest, as well as criticism of the government’s handling of floods in the Red Sea port of Jeddah in 2009, play an important role in Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s extension of his crackdown to members of the ruling family and the military. Prince Muhammad is attempting to stamp out any form of opposition to his mercurial rise, economic and social reform plans, and conduct of the Yemen war.
Prince Muhammad has dismissed and/or detained eleven princes, various senior government officials, top military officers, and an unidentified number of prominent businessmen largely linked to different factions within the ruling family. He will also be heading a new anti-corruption committee that will be looking into the handling of the Jeddah floods of 2009.
Those floods killed 120 people and caused destruction as well as prolonged power outages in Jeddah. The floods triggered an unusual public debate about the management of public funds and infrastructure defects. The Saudis said the port city’s poor infrastructure was the reason why the floods had such a devastating effect, prompting dozens to protest.
In 2011, another protest arose in response to a mass Blackberry message campaign calling on residents to gather on the city’s main shopping street. Up to 50 protestors are believed to have been arrested.