Saudi King Responds to Unrest with $37 Billion Aid

As more Arab regimes are toppled, Saudi leaders offer a $37 billion aid package to their citizens.

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Maayana Miskin, | updated: 20:27

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
Israel news photo: Wikimedia Commons

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah returned to his country Wednesday after spending three months in the United States for medical treatment. The king returned to a changed Middle East in which Arab leaders have been ousted from rule or are facing mass demonstrations for their resignation.

He has since announced a $37 billion aid package for Saudi citizens in the lower and middle classes, and has released three Shiite Muslim political prisoners.

The announcement was made as support grew for a Facebook group calling for “Day of Rage” protests in Saudi Arabia in March similar to those in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and elsewhere. Protesters plan to call for an elected government, more rights for women, and the release of political prisoners.

Political analysts believe King Abdullah may also be concerned by the prospect of unrest among Shiite Muslims similar to that in Bahrain, where the Shiite majority has taken to the streets in opposition of the Sunni Muslim leadership.

Shiite Muslims in Saudi Arabia have no representation in government, and are often the victims of incitement from Sunni Muslim religious leaders, who view them as believing in a false faith and as possible Iranian agents. Unlike in Bahrain, they are a religious minority; however, many of Saudi Arabia's oil fields are located in majority-Shiite regions.

Abdullah plans to meet with the king of Bahrain as well.