Amnesty says the government has drafted an anti-terror law that would effectively criminalise dissent as a "terrorist crime" and allow extended detention without charge or trial.
Questioning the integrity of the king would carry a minimum prison sentence of 10 years, according to Amnesty.
"Rather than deal with legitimate demands, the government is taking the easy route and blaming everything on a conspiracy by the Iranians," said the activist, who asked not to be named for fear of repercussions.
The takeaway from the Amnesty report is that demonstrators have been active in Saudi Arabia just as long as in Libya and elsewhere, and as consistently -- and, as elsewhere, have been dealt with harshly by their government. Somehow, though, this is not deemed a sufficiently important story to cover.
Could it have something to do with Saudi Arabia's indispensability as an ally and supplier of oil? In which case, traditional news reporting standards do not apply?
And did anyone ask the US government, so quick to condemn Qaddafi for his crackdown on demonstrators, if it had any reaction to the Saudi crackdown on demonstrators? Doesn't look like it.
Meanwhile, what of this scapegoating of Iran for what seems to be authentic Saudi dissent? How does this dovetail with the overall western effort to characterize Iran as behind every nefarious act, even the ludicrous-sounding plot announced months ago by the White House, in which the Iranians were purportedly trying to recruit Mexican drug gangs to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US?
What of the buildup to an attack on Iran, through the right-wing government of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu -- decried even by the heads of Israel's own intelligence agencies as unjustified and dangerous?
How much of this larger play is about keeping the Saudi royal family in power, and taking care of the Western oil industry, and the "western way of life"?
Consider Libya vs Saudi Arabia. Two oil producers, one unpredictable and unreliable, one tight with the West. Heavy coverage of dissent in one, almost none in the other.
SAUDIS AREN'T WAITING
Saudis know better than to wait for the establishment media to get into the act. One outlier that tends to be ahead of the pack, McClatchy Newspapers, just ran a piece on how Saudi dissidents are turning to YouTube to get their message out. Though Saudi Arabia's high standard of living is a chestnut in media coverage, the dissidents highlight the disparities in the Kingdom in a homemade video:
One Saudi man he interviews has 11 children to feed and a net monthly income of $1,200, half of which goes to rent. The family has enough money left over only for flour and one meal a day. The imam at the local mosque reveals that in order to raise money for the household, the parents are sending out young sons to sell drugs, and the women engage in prostitution.
While the film doesn't explicitly explain the "Monopoly" of its title, a leading Saudi human rights activist said in an interview that it comes down to one thing: "All the land is owned de facto and de jure by the royal family."