The Saudis are afraid of the Arab spring, because they don't want anti-Saudi forces, including such enemies as Iran and Al Qaeda, to increase their influence in the Middle East, and they believe the revolutions in the region might have just this effect.
Some of the older Saudi leaders have seen this movie before. The nationalist revolutions of the 1950's and 1960's, inspired and galvanized by Gamel Nasser's Egypt, nearly toppled the House of Saud. Nonetheless, today's Saudi princes appear to recognize that something has genuinely changed in the Middle East: The younger generation of Arabs is no longer prepared to accept unaccountable, corrupt, and brutal governments.
Saudi Arabia, a self-proclaimed bulwark of Islamic conservatism, where popular democracy has never been considered a legitimate form of rule, has been more aggressive in some arenas than in others. Domestically, the royal family struck quickly, adopting a ban on public demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience. The Kingdom's traditional interpretation of Islam construes political legitimacy in terms of a ruler's proper application of Islamic law. In return, his subjects owe him obedience within the constraints of Sharia religious law.
By Bernard Haykel
[Excerpt—See accompanying URL for full original text]