Middle East harbinger watch

The Saudi royals have been giving lots of lip service lately to reform, but it seems when actual citizens go out in the street and demand it, well, that’s not what they had in mind.

Saudi police arrested as many as 150 people for participating in a rare public protest in the capital to call for reforms in the conservative Islamic kingdom, the interior minister said.

Tuesday’s protest in central Riyadh was the first such large-scale demonstration in a kingdom that has been under internal and external pressure to reform. The demonstrations were a major departure from the newspaper commentaries or petitions to the government that have characterized the Saudi reform movement.

After demonstrators blocked traffic, police fired tear gas and moved in, arresting “no more than 150 individuals who gathered carrying banners,” the interior minister, Prince Nayef, told the official Saudi Press Agency. Witnesses had said there were hundreds of protesters, men and women, most of them young.

“They are a small bunch,” Nayef said. “This won’t happen again.”

If I had to bet, Your Highness, I’d wager you were wrong about that.