Saudi protests `tempest in teacup`: Prince Alwaleed

The Saudi Prince said the country was nothing like Libya or Egypt.

Last Updated: Mar 12, 2011, 10:47 AM IST

Washington: Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal on Friday called the protests in the oil giant a "tempest in a teacup”, saying instead of it being a "day of rage" people were demonstrating their love for the king.

A day after police fired on marchers to break up a demonstration in the eastern city of Al-Qateef, Alwaleed told the US CNBC television that the country was nothing like Libya or Egypt, and the government had strong support of its people.

Alwaleed said nobody showed up after midday prayers in Riyadh on Friday for a "day of rage" demonstration calling for democracy and rights called for in an anonymously-launched Internet campaign.

With a heavy police presence on the streets of the Saudi capital, "I didn`t find a single human being there after the prayer," he said.

"In a nutshell, this whole thing was a tempest in a teacup."

"You should call it day of allegiance, of love for the King Abdullah," said Alwaleed, a nephew of the king and an investment tycoon with a fortune pegged at USD 20 billion.

"Today in the street, people had their flags up, they were just embracing themselves, and they were saying we will not tolerate and accept any demonstrations here."

According to other reports, rights activists stayed home on Friday after police boosted patrols and monitoring in Riyadh and Jeddah.

But scores of protestors were on the streets for a second day in Al-Qateef, a Shi’ite stronghold in the predominantly Sunni country.

On Thursday, an estimated 700-800 Shi’ite protestors marched in the city to call for the release of arrested activists and for the government to stop repressing their religious practice.

Three people were injured in a confrontation in which police fired bullets -- according to some reports, rubber bullets -- and stun grenades at the crowd.

But Alwaleed dismissed it as a small misunderstanding involving "40-50 people”.

"Authorities talked to them, and dispersed them amicably ...This was not a demonstration," he said.

Alwaleed, who was ranked number 26 on the Forbes list of billionaires this week with a fortune put at USD 19.6 billion, is the largest single shareholder in Citigroup and controls stakes in large groups like Apple and Newscorp through his tightly-held Kingdom Holdings group.

He is also a confidant of the king -- the half brother of Alwaleed`s father -- and, in the context of the kingdom`s ultrastrict Islamic laws and traditions, a social progressive.

He said the king is moving to address some of the country`s problems, but did not mention political reform of the absolute monarchy.

"Sure enough, we would like to make many changes internally," he said.

"King Abdullah is a reformer... it`s an ongoing process. Each country has to advance and go at its own speed.”

"Saudi Arabia is no Egypt, and no Libya, and no Tunisia, period."

Bureau Report