BEIRUT — With a deal to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia "getting closer every day," according to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, L’Orient Today spoke to young people in the Kingdom to see how they feel about the transition.
It is very hard to get an accurate picture of how Saudis inside Saudi Arabia feel about domestic politics, due to the country's strict censorship.
US-run non-profit Freedom House, which promotes democracy and monitors the extent of political and economic freedom of countries around the world, scored Saudi Arabia one out of four in their measure of freedom of expression.
"Surveillance is extensive within Saudi Arabia, and Saudis living and traveling abroad are also subject to spying and intimidation," states the Freedom House website.
In order to get a sense of feelings inside the country, L'Orient Today scanned social media and hashtags, and interviewed some young people inside the country, all of whom are kept anonymous to protect their safety.
MBS on Israeli relations
In a Wednesday interview broadcast, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) told Fox News that Saudi Arabia is getting "ever closer" to normalizing ties with Israel.
Long-time foes, Israel and Saudi Arabia are now in talks to reach a landmark agreement to open diplomatic relations. Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco are currently the only countries in the region to maintain diplomatic ties with Israel.
The talks come three years after the signing of the 2020 Abraham Accords — a series of bilateral agreements between Arab countries and Israel. Last week, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said there’s a “window of opportunity” to add Saudi Arabia to the roster.
“If we can get Saudi Arabia to join that trend, it will be groundbreaking and no less historic than the Abraham Accords.”
The name of the Abraham Accords is rooted in the common belief of the Abrahamic religions — particularly Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — regarding the role of Abraham as a spiritual patriarch.
Reaction on social media
Following the MBS interview, the hashtag #SaudisAgainstNormalization emerged on Twitter. L'Orient Today could not immediately verify if the hashtag was created by a bot.
Nasser al-Qarni a social media user using the hashtag. His father, Saudi Islamic scholar Naser Al Qarni, was arrested in 2017 on charges of criticizing the Saudi regime. Nasser Al-Qarni reposted what his father had tweeted in 2015 which said "Any peace or surrender agreement that neglects an inch of Palestine, especially in Jerusalem, does not represent our nation and does not concern us..."
Saudi citizen Marwan Al Qorashi wrote on X that he hopes that the normalization deal takes place so he can visit Al-Aqsa mosque and pray there.
والله الطرمة راسك المربع— مـروان الـقرشي ? ?? (@MQ_alqurashii) September 18, 2023
يسب و يشتم السعودية ردا على هجومها كيف ؟؟؟
يا رجل البلد و الحكومة الفلسطينية نفسها مطبعه مع اليهود تزعل من الدول العربية اذا طبعت ليش وبصراحة انا اتمنى ان السعودية تطبع لان نفسي ازور المسجد الأقصى و أصلي فيه pic.twitter.com/rhuSZ56P7C
The 'Saudis with Al-Aqsa' a page on Twitter, which advocates for Palestine, wrote last month using the same hashtag: "We reject the Land of the Two Holy Mosques being tainted by normalization with the occupying entity."
'MBS won't flush the rights of Palestinians down the drain'
Petroleum Engineer Dana*, 29, told L’Orient Today that she still believes that normalization with Israel "is a far-fetched step."
"I think MBS would receive a lot of backlash,” she added. "The kingdom has always been the face of Islam. After all, Muslims worldwide face Mecca five times a day during their daily prayers. So I think there will be a big global outrage if MBS outwardly extends his hand to an apartheid state that routinely attacks Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.”
Bassam*, a 31-year-old physics teacher from Saudi Arabia, told L’Orient Today that he “trusts MBS’s leadership."
"I know that if the ties are formed between my country and Israel it is definitely in the best interest of the region, and the Palestinian cause," he told L’Orient Today. “I’m sure that MBS will not flush the rights of the Palestinians down the drain.”
However, Mohammed*, 26, who manages his family’s trade business, told L’Orient Today that “it doesn’t matter what Saudis think of a possible normalization deal, their opinion won’t be heard, or even taken into consideration. You can’t really know what Saudis think because the majority of the people are scared of speaking out.”
Mohammed said he believes that if people in Saudi Arabia haven't been able to speak out against other political moves by MBS, then they probably won't be able to share their opinions on potential diplomatic relations with Israel.
“The way our country is headed simply does not align with our Islamic values," he said. "Half-naked singers are being paid millions of dollars to come and hold parties and festivities a few kilometers from the holiest place in Islam [Mecca] and still people are too afraid of saying anything, so I doubt they will be able to speak out much if a deal is made.”
*Names have been changed in order to protect the identity of individuals in Saudi Arabia