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Day of Rage in Saudi Arabia: How much change can the Gulf expect?

Regime change may not come swiftly to Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, where protesters have called for a 'Day of Rage' today, but a revolution of a different sort is taking place.

By Correspondent, Jackie SpinnerCorrespondent / March 11, 2011

Yusef Ahmed Al Hooti, a risk officer for a bank in Muscat, said Oman's leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, was deceived by his ministers into believing Omanis were content. He said people in the sultanate want real changes in their government and want corrupt officials prosecuted for their actions.

Jackie Spinner

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Cairo; and Muscat, Oman

Updated at 1:43 p.m.

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From Saudi Arabia’s “Day of Rage” today to an explosion of free speech in Oman, Arab unrest is making ever-larger waves in the oil-rich Gulf region.

Most of the protesters in these Gulf nations are seeking reform, not the overthrow of the royal ruling families. But citizens’ willingness to express their discontent – even after their leaders have made unprecedented concessions – signals what may be the beginning of the end for the monarchies’ strategy of buying compliance with generous social welfare benefits.

“We’re told they’re stable regimes that manage to buy off protests,” says Toby Jones, a Middle East historian at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “But they’re characterized by deep disillusionment, and disappointment, about the nature of the political system.... There was always a simmering level of frustration, and that’s going to be there five years from now, 10 years from now, just like it has been.”

Regime change may not come swiftly to the Gulf, as it did to Tunisia and Egypt, but the newfound boldness to press for more rights is a revolution in its own right in countries where people have long been subdued by fear.

A free-speech revolution

In Oman, a tiny country on the Arabian Peninsula that is normally quiet, even sedate, it’s as if the entire country woke up one morning and decided it was free to speak publicly.

Oman has never experienced countrywide public demonstrations on the scale of the past few weeks, prompting Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, who has led the country for 40 years, to offer unprecedented concessions.

On Monday, he restructured his royal cabinet, appointing 11 new ministers. He also has called for the creation of 50,000 jobs and offered unemployment benefits to job-seekers. The Ministry of Manpower has been swamped with applicants for the new benefits.

But the protesters haven’t gone home – dozens are still camped out on chairs, carpets, and even in a few colorful tents in front of the Majlis al-Shura, a partially elected body that advises the government. Everyone from students to professionals seem to be reveling in their newfound ability to articulate and press for their rights.

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