March 11, 2011, was declared on Facebook a “Day of Rage” in Saudi Arabia, in imitation of the various popular uprisings that were taking place throughout the Arab world in the spring of that year. By this time two Arab dictators had fallen in Tunisia and Egypt and unrest was spreading to Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen. Several online petitions also were urging political reform, and some Shiite demonstrations were taking place in the Eastern Province. Many predicted that Saudi Arabia was not immune to revolution and that the regime would succumb to the same forces that had effected change elsewhere. However, no mass protests or mobilizations occurred, and over the following months the Saudi government was able to contain and ward off any significant opposition.
This is not the first time that observers had wrongly predicted the demise of the Al Saud, the royal family that has ruled all or parts of the country since the eighteenth century. In the 1960s, Arab nationalism under the leadership of President Nasser of Egypt was expected to sweep the royals away. Later in 1979, with the Iranian revolution and the uprisings in Mecca and those of the Shiites in the Eastern Province, the Saudis were again given a short lease on life. In the early 1990s, an indigenous Islamist movement called the Sahwa was again challenging the regime. And in the early 2000s al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula stoked fears of instability through a series of violent attacks and muscular propaganda. In each of these cases, the Saudi regime weathered the storm through a complex set of policies and tactics that today are being deployed again.