Hear the one about the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia that nobody noticed?
No, this is not a joke. It is a real situation -- and a cautionary example of what happens when Western governments and their media are more favorable to some "revolutions" than others.
With the Syrian regime, long out of favor with the West, we heard about the uprising from the beginning. The drumbeat has grown dramatically, along with Western condemnations and moves to isolate the regime for its crackdown on dissent.
In the case of Libya, run by the fiercely independent and eccentric Qaddafi, much of the world's press credulously rushed to print every rumor about regime excesses, many of them never verified and seemingly untrue. (For more on that, see this and this and this.) The press portrayed the rebels as heroes, and featured almost daily coverage. As NATO launched a creeping intervention which ended with wall to wall bombing, the media accepted its claim that the intervention was to stop Qaddafi from harming or further oppressing his people.
The media quickly took to -- and stayed with -- the uprising in Egypt, one of the poorest countries in the region, where the West lost an ally but quickly found a new collaborator in a similarly-inclined military junta.
In the case of the mother of all petro-allies, Saudi Arabia, however, protests have been met with near silence by the media and no expressions of sympathy for the dissenters by Western governments.
THE SAUDI STRUGGLE
Here's the background: On November 21, government troops opened fire on demonstrators in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, killing at least four and injuring more. Given the general paucity of demonstrations in a country where dissent is dealt with fiercely, the unrest and violence seemed a highly newsworthy development.
The next day, the Middle-East-based Al Jazeera English, the "best" Western source of news from the region, punted. Instead of getting direct eyewitness accounts that might anger the Saudi leadership (close allies of the Emir of Qatar, who owns Al Jazeera), the network used an old trick. It quoted a Western news agency, the French outfit Agence France Press, which merely reported the Saudi government's version of events. (For more on blatant inconsistencies in how Al Jazeera covers different uprisings in the region, see this WhoWhatWhy article )
Two days after Al Jazeera, the Associated Press had its own report , also based on the Saudi spokesman. The article did note "a series of clashes between police and protesters in the country's Shiite-dominated eastern region, starting in the spring." It noted:
"The Interior Ministry previously blamed what it described as "seditious" residents, saying they attacked security forces with guns and firebombs with the backing of a foreign enemy -- an apparent reference to Shiite power Iran.- Advertisement -
"The ministry statement Thursday said the deaths in the new unrest were the result of exchanges of fire since Monday with 'unknown criminals,' who it said fired on security checkpoints and vehicles from houses and alleyways."
The purported context comes in the final paragraph:
"There is a long history of discord between the kingdom's Sunni rulers and the Shiite minority concentrated in the east, Saudi Arabia's key oil-producing region. Shiites make up 10 percent of the kingdom's 23 million citizens and complain of discrimination, saying they are barred from key positions in the military and government and are not given a proportionate share of the country's wealth."