Tensions Running High in Saudi Arabia

Friday, 11 Mar 2011 | 9:06 AM ET

Tensions are high in Saudi Arabia in expectations of protests akin to the ones that have swept across the Arab World.


The United States has said it is monitoring the situation and the markets continue to be on edge.

Security forces are on high alert and witnesses have told CNBC that several helicopters have been spotted hovering over different parts of Jeddah, the second-largest city in the Kingdom.

A different witness described the security presence in Jeddah as "alarming". Special units have been deployed. Baiaa Square, where some protestors are expected to gather, remained quiet.

It is a similar picture at the time of writing in the capital Riyadh. Witnesses reported less activity in the streets. A 25-year-old Saudi woman, who works at a crisis management firm, explained that she would join the protests to call for change within the system.

"We're not asking for the fall of the regime. We just want an end to corruption" Protesters are expected to gather in at least three key cities, including the capital Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

A Facebook page calling for the demonstrations now numbers just above 34,000. Authorities have made it clear they will not tolerate protests. A day earlier some 200 mainly Shiite protestors gathered in the Eastern town of Qatif.

Saudi police dispersed them, injuring at least three people. Officials described the injuries as a consequence of self-defence.

Much of Saudi Arabia's key oil infrastructure is in the East, including the large tanker terminal of Ras Tanoura.

The Eurasia Group said in a statement that it considers an attack on the Kingdom's infrastructure, which is well-protected, as "unlikely at this point".

Saudi Arabia produces an estimated nine million barrels per day, and is believed to have an additional spare production capacity of 3.5 million barrels.

The note adds that, although unrest is expected, "it will not threaten al Saudi in the short term".

This has also been the opinion of most analysts and observers in the weeks ahead of the protests.

In the run-up to the demonstrations, regional stock markets closed mostly higher Thursday.

It is an overreaction by anti-riot police in both Tunisia and Egypt that is often cited as helping protests spiral out of control.

Separately, the Australian government warned that it continued receiving reports that terrorists are planning attacks in the Kingdom and that travelers should exercise "extreme caution".

Meanwhile, in a telephone conversation with CNBC from the eastern city of Al-Khobar, Amr Zedan, President of the Zedan Group, said that it was "business as usual".

Although concerned about the situation, he maintained that the "fundamentals are different from other countries that have seen popular unrest".

He continues to be optimistic about the long-term prospects. "Our King is very popular", he added. Zedan rejected the the possibility of rising tensions in Bahrain spreading across the border.


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