Torrential rains in western Saudi Arabia have caused extensive and deadly flooding, leading to the evacuation of thousands. The rains have disrupted the major city of Jeddah and surrounding areas, with schools closed on Saturday in the city. Over ten people were reported killed.
A massive rescue operation was launched with helicopters and ground teams mobilised to evacuate residents and save those stranded by rising waters.
Protests were triggered after the floods. Following mass messages sent over smart phones on Friday, protesters staged a rally on a main thoroughfare in Jeddah's commercial district after Friday prayers. “God is Great,” they shouted before Saudi security forces moved to disperse the demonstrators.
Reuters quoted a police officer as saying that around 50 protesters were detained during the anti-government rally.
Mobile text messages are being sent calling for a general strike next week.
“No work for the full week until they find a solution to the roads of Jeddah,” a message said. It was not known who sent the messages.
Saudi authorities asked residents to stay indoors. There is no official assessment of the damages caused by the foods.
The oil-rich kingdom lacks the basic necessary systems and structures to drain water out of the residential areas during a heavy rainfall.
January 23, 2011
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The floods in Jeddah this year appear to be similar to floods in the past, including last year. There has been widespread criticism from Saudis about lack of adequate preparedness to face such regular events, with deaths reported almost annually. Further criticism came that hundreds of millions of dollars spent on upgrading the preparedness after last year’s flood were allegedly riddled with corruption deals.
This years is more complicated for the Saudi regime as this time the floods come at a time of unprecedented unrest within the Arab street, including Saudi. The reports that hundreds of Saudis demonstrated asking for better facilities and opportunities, is unprecedented in Saudi. Press is tightly controlled and no reports have been coming out of the situation on the ground as to the extent of the unrest. However, the fact that the floods came at this sensitive time has only helped to galvanize opposition to the authorities. Although calls were largely restricted to dealing with the floods effects, they are likely to extend to calls for greater rights, both political, social and economic. The Saudi authorities face the most serious threat of civil unrest, not only in the affected flood areas in Jeddah, but across the kingdom and for a variety of reasons.