Saudi Arabia has escaped, so far, the protests raging throughout the Arab world—and King Abdullah wants to keep it that way. He returned to his country today after a three-month convalescence in Morocco, where he was recuperating from back surgery, and before he arrived state media announced a costly action plan aimed at helping lower- and middle-income Saudis. The benefits, worth $37 billion, will include increased pay to offset inflation, unemployment benefits, and affordable housing, Reuters reports. Some Saudis were critical of what they saw as “fighting the symptoms and ignoring the disease,” as one wrote on Twitter. “We want rights, not gifts,” wrote another.
Bahrain, where protests are going on, is linked to Saudi Arabia by a causeway, and that country’s King Hamad bin Isa was among those on the tarmac to greet Abdullah upon his arrival. There are fears in Riyadh that the unrest among Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority might spread to Saudi Arabia’s disgruntled Shi’ite minority. Though Saudi Arabia has not seen protests yet, hundreds of people are backing a call on Facebook for a “Day of Rage” on March 11 demanding an elected ruler and other political and social reforms. This move by Abdullah “is good, but it’s an old message of using oil money to buy the silence, subservience, and submission of the people,” says a think tank member.