Big stakes in Saudi Arabia protests – by Ash Pemberton

Editor’s note: Here is a selection of recent articles on the uprising for human rights and democracy in Saudi Arabia. Pakistanis will keep ignoring it because of their Shia phobia and Wahhabi philia. The West (US) will keep ignoring it because of their ‘Oil over Democracy’ strategy.


The pro-democracy protests in Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Bahrain have the potential to have a huge impact on world politics. The stakes are very high.

In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s tiny island neighbour, protesters have mobilised in their hundreds of thousands for weeks to demand the Khalifah royal family be removed from power. Bahrain is of great strategic importance for the West. It hosts the US Navy’s fifth fleet and a US airbase. This helps ensure US control of the oil-rich Persian Gulf region and the ability to maintain a constant threat against Iran.

The protests in Bahrain are worrying the Islamic fundamentalist monarchy that governs Saudi Arabia, the US’s most important ally in the Arab world.

The Saudis are concerned that success by Bahraini protesters could inspire a similar revolt in Saudi Arabia — especially in the oil-rich eastern areas.

Saudi authorities announced a ban on public protests after several rallies across the country, the British Guardian said on March 6.

The Australian said on March 11 that police fired on demonstrators the previous day.

A number of small gatherings occurred in late January outside government buildings, “protesting their deteriorating living conditions, rising unemployment (in one of the strongest economies in the world), and increasingly corrupt and stagnant bureaucracy”, said on January 29.

A small protest occurred in the eastern city of Qatif on February 24, demanding the release of prisoners held for long periods without trial, Reuters said on February 26.

On March 4, there were protests in the eastern region and a smaller protest in the capital Riyadh, the March 8 Guardian said.

The protests in the eastern region primarily called for the release from prison of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer, who was freed on March 6. He had been arrested after giving a sermon calling for a constitutional monarchy.

A group of young Saudi men and women released a statement on March 5 listing a series of demands for progressive reform of Saudi society.

The list included: giving women full rights; addressing unemployment, poverty and cost of living issues; fighting corruption, nepotism and religious discrimination; ending enforcement of religious rules by the state; improving the education system and expanding cultural life.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by an absolute monarchy that has enjoyed extremely close relations with the US for 75 years. The government, led by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, enforces its own version of strict Islamic law, which includes gender segregation, suppression of religious minorities and no freedom of speech.

Jeffrey Rudolph said in an article posted at on February 28: “This relationship highlights the gross hypocrisy of US foreign policy: fundamentalism and dictatorship in the Arab world is only condemned when it comes garbed in anti-Americanism.

“The US and Saudi governments have had a clear long-term agreement. The Saudis agree to supply oil in accordance with US needs and to reinvest the resulting revenue in US assets and arms.

“In return, the US provides protection to the Royal family regardless of its internal repression and extremist ideology.”

However, the relationship is about more than simply supply of oil. US author and political analyst Noam Chomsky said in a June 2007 Monthly Review article: “What has been central to [US] planning [concerning Middle East energy resources] is control, not access, an important distinction … Such control gives the United States ‘veto power’ over its industrial rivals.”

The Saudi regime has been largely stable, but the revolt in Bahrain is causing panic. The Saudi government said it would use “all its capabilities” to support Bahrain’s rulers, Associated Press said on February 22.

Source: Green Left


Protests hit eastern Saudi Arabia, calm in capital
HASSAN AMMAR, Associated Press
March 13, 2011

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Several hundred people protested in heavily Shiite eastern Saudi Arabia Friday but hundreds of police prevented protests in the capital calling for democratic reforms inspired by the wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world.
Police blocked roads and set up random checkpoints in Riyadh, searching residents and vehicles around a central mosque as large numbers of people gathered for Friday prayers. Witnesses said groups of policemen manned street corners and intersections and a helicopter flew over the city.
By midday, no protesters had showed up in the capital and the police presence significantly decreased.
In the eastern city of Qatif and nearby areas where the country’s minority Shiites live, several hundred people staged protests, shouting slogans calling for reforms and equality between Shiites and Sunnis. In Qatif, the protesters were surrounded by armored personnel carriers and dozens of riot police in full gear.
On Thursday, violence broke out at another protest in Qatif, when Saudi police opened fire to disperse demonstrators. At least three protesters and one police officer were wounded. Friday’s protest was largely peaceful.
Although protests have so far been confined to small rallies in the east, activists have been emboldened by other uprisings in the region that have toppled longtime rulers of Tunisia and Egypt. The Saudi activists have set up online groups calling for protests in Riyadh on Friday.
Any violence at Friday’s planned protests could reverberate through the world’s markets because of the importance of Saudi oil exports.
Security officials on Friday said security measures around state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco and its oil facilities in the east were beefed up protectively, in case of any violence. The company is based in Dhahran district on the kingdom’s eastern coast.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the new measures were “considered normal under the current circumstances,” referring to the online call for protests in the area.

Investors are sensitive to any sign of upheaval in Saudi Arabia because the OPEC leader has been using its spare capacity to make up for output lost amid the violent uprising against Libya’s government. When news broke that Saudi Arabian police fired shots to break up the protest Thursday, prices soared $3 in just 12 minutes.

Discord is common between Saudi authorities and the country’s Shiites, who make up 10 percent of the kingdom’s 23 million citizens. The Shiites have long complained of discrimination, saying they are barred from key positions in the military and government and are not given an equal share of the country’s wealth.

The pro-Western monarchy is concerned protests could open footholds for Shiite powerhouse Iran and has accused foreigners of stoking the protests, which are officially forbidden.

In Riyadh, the Interior Ministry organized a tour for a few journalists who were escorted by police around the city Friday. At one point in front of a government building, the journalists encountered a man, Khaled al-Juhni, standing outside a government building, shouting calls for more freedoms.

Police and journalists watched as the man criticized the regime as a “police state” and “a big prison” before he got in his car and left.
Despite the ban on demonstrations and a warning that security forces will act against them, protesters demanding the release of political prisoners took to the streets Thursday for a second day in the eastern city of Qatif. Several hundred protesters, some wearing masks to avoid being identified, marched after dark asking for “Freedom for prisoners.”
Police, who were lined up opposite the protesters, fired percussion bombs followed by gunfire, causing the crowd to scatter, a witness said. Other witnesses said the protesters threw Molotov cocktails and stones from rooftops on the security troops.

Mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia has struggled to stay ahead of the unrest that has led to the ouster of the Egyptian and Tunisian leaders in recent weeks.

Last month, the ultraconservative Saudi government announced an unprecedented economic package worth an estimated $36 billion that will give Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and debt forgiveness.

At the same time, it reiterated that demonstrations are forbidden in the kingdom because they contradict Islamic laws and society’s values and said security forces were authorized to act against anyone violating the ban.

So far the demonstrations have been small, concentrated in the east among Shiites demanding the release of detainees. But activists have been emboldened by other uprisings have set up Facebook groups calling for protests in the capital, Riyadh, on Friday to demand democratic reforms.

One such group garnered more than 30,000 supporters. The group called the “Honein Revolution March 11” has listed a number of mosques in 17 Saudi cities for protesters to rally.

The group says it strives to have elected officials in Saudi Arabia, including the ruler.



سعودی عرب میں مظاہرہ

سعودی عرب میں پولیس نے ملک کے مشرقی شہر قطیف میں مظاہرین پر فائرنگ کی ہے۔

اس واقعے میں کم از کم ایک شخص کےشدید زخمی ہونے کی اطلاع ملی ہے۔

اطلاعات کے مطابق پولیس نے ایک مظاہرے کو منتشر کرنے کے لیے ہوائی فائرنگ کی اور سٹن گرنیڈ استعمال کیے۔

قطیف شہر میں مظاہرین ملک میں سیاسی اصلاحات کا مطالبہ کر رہے تھے۔

حکومت کی طرف سے شدید وارنگ کے باوجود درجنوں کی تعداد میں لوگ اس مظاہرے میں شریک ہوئے۔

انٹرنیٹ کے ذریعے لوگوں کو جمعہ کو ایک بڑا مظاہرہ کرنے کے لیے آمادہ کیا جا رہا ہے۔

مبصرین نے خبردار کیا ہے کہ سعودی عرب میں تشدد کے کسی واقع کی صورت میں
تیل کی عالمی قیمتوں پر اثر پڑے گا

Qatif demonstration protests

Demonstration in Qatif (saudi arabia) calling for the release of 15 Shiite prisoners held for more than 15 years without trial. The protestors called for freedom.

22 responses to “Big stakes in Saudi Arabia protests – by Ash Pemberton”

  1. USA prefers oil and Saudi Kingdom, ignores human rights

    Obama asks Saudis to airlift weapons into Benghazi

    By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent
    Monday, 7 March 2011

    Saudi Arabia has not yet responded to a request from the US to supply weapons to rebels in Libya

    Desperate to avoid US military involvement in Libya in the event of a prolonged struggle between the Gaddafi regime and its opponents, the Americans have asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to the rebels in Benghazi. The Saudi Kingdom, already facing a “day of rage” from its 10 per cent Shia Muslim community on Friday, with a ban on all demonstrations, has so far failed to respond to Washington’s highly classified request, although King Abdullah personally loathes the Libyan leader, who tried to assassinate him just over a year ago.

    Washington’s request is in line with other US military co-operation with the Saudis. The royal family in Jeddah, which was deeply involved in the Contra scandal during the Reagan administration, gave immediate support to American efforts to arm guerrillas fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan in 1980 and later – to America’s chagrin – also funded and armed the Taliban.

    But the Saudis remain the only US Arab ally strategically placed and capable of furnishing weapons to the guerrillas of Libya. Their assistance would allow Washington to disclaim any military involvement in the supply chain – even though the arms would be American and paid for by the Saudis.

    The Saudis have been told that opponents of Gaddafi need anti-tank rockets and mortars as a first priority to hold off attacks by Gaddafi’s armour, and ground-to-air missiles to shoot down his fighter-bombers.

    Supplies could reach Benghazi within 48 hours but they would need to be delivered to air bases in Libya or to Benghazi airport. If the guerrillas can then go on to the offensive and assault Gaddafi’s strongholds in western Libya, the political pressure on America and Nato – not least from Republican members of Congress – to establish a no-fly zone would be reduced.

    US military planners have already made it clear that a zone of this kind would necessitate US air attacks on Libya’s functioning, if seriously depleted, anti-aircraft missile bases, thus bringing Washington directly into the war on the side of Gaddafi’s opponents.

    For several days now, US Awacs surveillance aircraft have been flying around Libya, making constant contact with Malta air traffic control and requesting details of Libyan flight patterns, including journeys made in the past 48 hours by Gaddafi’s private jet which flew to Jordan and back to Libya just before the weekend.

    Officially, Nato will only describe the presence of American Awacs planes as part of its post-9/11 Operation Active Endeavour, which has broad reach to undertake aerial counter-terrorism measures in the Middle East region.

    The data from the Awacs is streamed to all Nato countries under the mission’s existing mandate. Now that Gaddafi has been reinstated as a super-terrorist in the West’s lexicon, however, the Nato mission can easily be used to search for targets of opportunity in Libya if active military operations are undertaken.

    Al Jazeera English television channel last night broadcast recordings made by American aircraft to Maltese air traffic control, requesting information about Libyan flights, especially that of Gaddafi’s jet.

    An American Awacs aircraft, tail number LX-N90442 could be heard contacting the Malta control tower on Saturday for information about a Libyan Dassault-Falcon 900 jet 5A-DCN on its way from Amman to Mitiga, Gaddafi’s own VIP airport.

    Nato Awacs 07 is heard to say: “Do you have information on an aircraft with the Squawk 2017 position about 85 miles east of our [sic]?”

    Malta air traffic control replies: “Seven, that sounds to be Falcon 900- at flight level 340, with a destination Mitiga, according to flight plan.”

    But Saudi Arabia is already facing dangers from a co-ordinated day of protest by its own Shia Muslim citizens who, emboldened by the Shia uprising in the neighbouring island of Bahrain, have called for street protests against the ruling family of al-Saud on Friday.

    After pouring troops and security police into the province of Qatif last week, the Saudis announced a nationwide ban on all public demonstrations.

    Shia organisers claim that up to 20,000 protesters plan to demonstrate with women in the front rows to prevent the Saudi army from opening fire.

    If the Saudi government accedes to America’s request to send guns and missiles to Libyan rebels, however, it would be almost impossible for President Barack Obama to condemn the kingdom for any violence against the Shias of the north-east provinces.

    Thus has the Arab awakening, the demand for democracy in North Africa, the Shia revolt and the rising against Gaddafi become entangled in the space of just a few hours with US military priorities in the region.

  2. Saudi prince says loyal Saudi foil “evil” protests
    Sun Mar 13, 2011 9:21am GMT

    JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – A senior Saudi prince said in comments published on Sunday that loyal Saudis had foiled plans by “evil people” to stage protests.

    Web activists had slated March 11 as the first day for mass protests around the country in favour of democratic government and a constitutional rather than absolute monarchy.

    But a religious ruling banning demonstrations in the world’s biggest oil exporter, and a heavy police crackdown in key cities, appeared to intimidate most who are interested in demanding more political rights.

    “I congratulate King Abdullah and his crown prince Sultan for having these kind and loyal subjects,” Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the king’s half-brother, said in remarks published on the official news agency overnight.

    “Some evil people wanted to spread chaos in the kingdom yesterday and called for demonstrations that have dishonourable goals,” said the veteran security chief, whose ministry warned last week that protests were un-Islamic and illegal.

    Inspired by mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt which resulted in the toppling of long-standing leaders Zine al Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, activists have signed petitions in favour of a constitutional monarchy.

    Governance in the U.S. ally is dominated by the Saudi royal family. Senior princes occupy key government posts, political parties and protests are banned, and the country has an advisory parliamentary body whose members are appointed by the king.

    The class of Sunni Muslim religious scholars, who have wide powers in society, uphold absolute obedience to the ruler.

    The Eastern Province, where most Saudi oil fields are located, was the only region that saw protests on Friday — the latest in a series of demonstrations there in recent weeks.

    They are demanding the release of prisoners held for years without trial. Shi’ite community leaders met King Abdullah and the governor of the Eastern Province last week to seek the release of some 26 people detained in protests.

    Shi’ites also complain of discrimination in a country that rules by Sunni sharia law. The government denies this.

    Three protesters were injured as police fired shots in the air during a Shi’ite protest on March 10.

    The Shi’ite minority in Saudi Arabia is thought to represent 10-15 percent of the country’s 27 million people.

    Weeks of protests by majority Shi’ites in neighbouring Bahrain have inspired their Saudi co-religionists.

    (Reporting by Asma Alsharif, editing by Myra MacDonald)

  3. A Saudi FCS writes?


    Less Roar, more Whimper: Saudi’s Day of Mild Annoyance
    Written by Eman-Al-Nafjan

    Friday was Saudi Arabia’s “day of rage”, planned for and anticipated for weeks. But, in the event, there wasn’t even a grumble – unless you count the ongoing protests in the eastern province which had been going on for a week.
    The protests in the east, where the Saudi Shia minority is concentrated, were mostly to call for the release of political prisoners. However, across the country there was silence. Many were expecting it to be so, but some wonder why.

    Two main factors played a role in this silence. The first was the government’s preparation, with the interior ministry’s warning and the senior clerics’ religious decree prohibiting demonstrations and petitions.
    During the week there was also a huge campaign to discourage demonstrations. Saudis were bombarded on TV, in SMS messages and online with rumours that the demonstrations were an Iranian conspiracy, and that those who went out in the streets would be punished with five years’ prison and fines in the thousands of riyals.
    Finally, on Friday itself, there was an intimidating security presence all over the major cities, with checkpoints on the roads and helicopters flying above.
    The second and more important factor discouraging protests was a huge question mark regarding who was calling for them. What started on a Facebook page as a call for the creation of a civil society with a list of demands including a constitutional monarchy and a call for public freedoms and respect for human rights eventually turned into a page where sectarianism was openly practised and Islamists were praised.

    The grassroots movement was gradually taken over and given a Jihadi name: Hunain, recalling a famous battle in the early history of Islam. Sa’ad al-Faqih and other anti-monarchy people took over. On his channel, Islah TV, he assigned locations and gave instructions on how to conduct a protest, with tips ranging from what to wear to what to do if tear gas gets in your eyes. He hijacked the grassroots movement for reforms into an outright call for an end to the monarchy and the creation of a new Islamist state – a cause similar to what Bin Laden and al-Qaida were calling for. These types of calls no longer have support within Saudi Arabia.

    Meanwhile, none of the prominent Saudis who drafted the petitions during the last few weeks openly supported the demonstrations. These academics, actors, writers, and public speakers whose petitions drew thousands of Saudis to bravely sign their names, did not call for the demonstrations on Friday nor say that they were participating.

    The Monday before, in a weekly meeting of a group of reformists, it was noted that for the overwhelming majority of them, there were no plans to be part of the “Hunain Revolution”. Even Saudis who considered participating said they would sit out the first day, just to gauge whether those coming out were reformists or anti-monarchists, so as to not be associated with the latter.

    As to how Saudis feel now that the day of no rage has come and gone, a hashtag on Twitter, #After11March, was created to discuss just that. There, most Saudis expressed their surprise at the extent to which the government took any threat of demonstrations seriously. Also, many wrote that they had not expected any large-scale protests to happen. As Soumz, a fellow blogger and medical student, tweeted:

    “Things i learned on #Mar11: the gov listens to you (though chooses to ignore you) AND the gov is afraid of you.”

    Fouad al-Farhan created a poll asking how people felt about the non-event. While it may not be scientific, it’s still telling. Four hundred took part and 37% felt relieved that nothing happened because they are opposed to any form of demonstrations; 30% felt disappointed that nothing happened because they believed demonstrations would push reforms forward; only 2% were disappointed because they were expecting a revolution on the same scale as Tunisia and Egypt; and finally 32% were optimistic that reforms are going to happen regardless of whether or not protests materialize.

  4. Saudi Arabia protests escalate, Police open fire
    Posted by Admin at 11 March, at 02 : 40 AM Print

    CAIRO — Saudi police opened fire Thursday to disperse a protest in the mainly Shiite, oil-producing east, leaving at least three people injured, as the government struggled to prevent a wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world from reaching the kingdom.

    Word of the protest helped drive oil prices back up on international markets.

    The rare violence raised concern about a crackdown ahead of planned protests after Friday prayers in different cities throughout the oil-rich kingdom. Violence there could reverberate through the world’s markets because of the importance of Saudi oil exports.

    Discord is common between authorities and the country’s Shiites, who make up 10 percent of the kingdom’s 23 million citizens. They have long complained of discrimination, saying they are barred from key positions in the military and government and are not given an equal share of the country’s wealth.

    Eyeing rising discontent across the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi authorities are increasingly determined to prevent the unrest from spreading to other cities.

    Saudi security forces have deployed around the capital of Riyadh on the eve of planned protests calling for democratic reforms.

    Witnesses reported Thursday seeing riot police and special forces with batons and tear gas canisters, particularly around shopping malls and main roads.

    The pro-Western monarchy is concerned protests could open footholds for Shiite powerhouse Iran and has accused foreigners of stoking the protests, which are officially forbidden.

    Despite the ban and a warning that security forces will act against them, protesters demanding the release of political prisoners took to the streets for a second day in the eastern city of Qatif.

    Several hundred protesters, some wearing masks to avoid being identified, marched after dark asking for “Freedom for prisoners.”

  5. Saudi Arabia Protests Could Strain U.S. Loyalty
    Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)
    Aaron Liu | March 10, 2011
    Staff Reporter

    Protests planned in Riyadh Friday. (PressTV)As Saudi Arabia becomes the United States’ latest Arab ally to aggressively crackdown on rising political upheaval, Washington increasingly finds itself tangled on whom to support – governments aiding American interests, or dissenters reflecting American values?
    Saudi Arabia upheld its promise to enforce its ban on protests Thursday as police opened fire on a rally in the eastern town of Qatif. According to Al Jazeera, police used “gunfire and stun grenades” to combat and disperse the several hundred protesters demanding the release of political prisoners. Bloomberg reported that at least two people were injured.

    The incident occurred hours before a planned “Day of Rage” demonstration on Friday in Riyadh, the kingdom’s capitol. Using social networking websites like Facebook to organize the event, activists gathered over 32,000 people to pledge their support online. But with public displays of civil disobedience rare in Saudi Arabia, doubts pervade regarding whether the protests will reach that magnitude.

    “I am not so sure much will happen Friday. We just don’t know,” Mohammed al-Qahtani, head of the Saudi Civil And Political Rights Association, which meets once a week to work out opposition strategies, said to Reuters. “It’s like an experiment.”

    Nevertheless, the possibility of political turmoil in Saudi Arabia complicates affairs for the Obama administration, as the kingdom has traditionally been an important partner to the United States for an array of reasons.

    Saudi Arabia is the third largest exporter of oil to the U.S., behind Mexico and Canada – in December 2010, the U.S. imported on average around 1,076 thousand barrels per day from the oil-rich nation.

    The U.S. also considers Saudi Arabia to be an important partner in combating terrorism. On its website, the U.S. Department of State maintains that both countries “share common concerns about regional security, oil exports and imports, and sustainable development.”

    But tensions are tightening between the two nations.

    The Obama administration’s sudden abandonment of former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak following a popular uprising in Egypt last month raises questions as to the brink at which the U.S. is willing to support autocratic allies. According to observers, Washington’s handling of the Egyptian uprising is particularly worrisome to Saudi head-of-state King Abdullah. Further rumors on a “cooling” of Saudi-U.S. relations have arisen in recent days, with Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal remarking “if ties were cold, then it would not be at our end.”

    Yet, if anything, the Saudi’s can take solace in the United States’ handling of another turbulent ally – Bahrain. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

    Despite its eagerness to show support for protesters across the Middle East, the Obama administration has lined up squarely with the royal family of Bahrain as tens of thousands march in the streets demanding reform in the strategic kingdom that is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

    Meanwhile, upon news of the Saudi police’s efforts to disperse the protesters, oil prices shot up $3 per barrel in less than 12 minutes, erasing the 3.6 percent decline in prices earlier in the day. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil eventually came around to perch at $102.70 per barrel, a 1.6 decrease.

    Reach reporter Aaron Liu here.

  6. Speaking out
    Written on March 10, 2011 by Editor – BBC World News

    10 March 2011
    Last updated at 17:02 ET

    By Paul Wood
    BBC News, Qatif, Saudi Arabia

    Protests are extremely rare in Saudi Arabia, but activists in Qatif recently took to the streets

    “Don’t talk to the foreigners,” said the voice. We were interviewing a leading Shia dissident in his home when he was interrupted by the call.

    It was a state security man who had tailed us to the house and was now parked outside.

    The dissident, Dr Tawfik Alsaif, laughed and put down the phone. “They don’t realise how things have changed yet,” he said.

    We were in the eastern town of Qatif in the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s minority Shias and the scene of small anti-government marches last week.

    The demonstrations were mainly by families demanding that their relatives be released from prison.
    Continue reading the main story
    “Start Quote

    Saudi Arabia is not like other countries where people have nothing to lose – here, they will be cautious”
    End Quote
    Fouad al-Farhan
    Saudi blogger

    On Friday, activists are trying to organise a Day of Rage in cities across the kingdom.

    Common cause
    But calls for political reform are now coming from different sections of Saudi society – Shia and Sunni, conservative and liberal. It is this that alarms the authorities.

    Dr Alsaif, a Shia intellectual, has made common cause with other campaigners.

    He had signed two of the three petitions circulating on the internet calling for more democracy in the kingdom.
    There was a time when talking to the BBC would have got him arrested, and perhaps it yet will.

    But, he told me, after Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, there was a new paradigm in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia could not be immune.

    “Every state in the Middle East is nervous. And they should be nervous,” he said.

    He stressed that he wanted gradual change, not a revolution.

    “I don’t believe that liberal democracy will be put in place tomorrow but we have to start somewhere. Equality, the rule of law – the country is ready for this. We have to start the process.”

    Demonstrators initially called for the release of political prisoners but their demands have broadened
    After that meeting, the authorities asked us politely, but firmly, to leave eastern Saudi Arabia.
    Before we were put on the next plane back to the capital, our government minders found us some loyalists to speak to.

    They worried that democracy would cause strife in a tribal society.

    “Stability and security are very important here on the peninsula,” said Adeeb al-Khunaizi, an oil executive from a family of Qatif notables.

    Democracy risked “60 years of bloodshed”, he said – a return to the era of tribal conflict.
    Dynasty state
    Salman al-Jishi, a senior businessman, said that people loved the king and democracy was not needed in a country where anyone could take up their grievances directly with their rulers.

    “The doors are open here,” he said. “You can pick up the phone and call a prince and he is willing to hear you and listen to your problems. We have a different system. I don’t think that even in your country you can meet any minister [you want].”

    This is SAUDI Arabia – a country named after one family, the al-Saud dynasty.
    Continue reading the main story
    “Start Quote

    Our people are very well trained in dealing with demonstrations”
    End Quote
    Maj Gen Mansour al-Turki
    Interior ministry spokesman

    There is no serious challenge yet to King Abdullah’s rule. Still, on his return from medical treatment abroad, he announced £23bn ($37bn) in pay rises, subsidies and gifts for his people.
    That was the carrot. The interior ministry has produced the stick, issuing a statement to remind Saudis that public demonstrations in the kingdom are illegal, warning that “all measures” would be taken to deal with “disorder”.
    The ministry’s spokesman, Maj Gen Mansour al-Turki, told me that the security forces would move very quickly to close down any demonstrations before they could escalate.
    “There is no order to shoot. There is no order to use any kind of excessive force,” he said.
    “Our people are very well trained in dealing with demonstrations. They are used to this from the Haj [the annual pilgrimage to Mecca which attracts hundreds of thousands of people].”
    Fouad al-Farhan, a blogger who has served time in prison, told me: “Demonstrations are not part of the culture. The majority of Saudis never saw a protest. That is a barrier. Will people go out? That is a big question.”
    That question was being debated at a dinner in Riyadh for another internet activist who had only just got out of jail. His crime, he told me, was that he had discussed the royal succession on his Facebook page.
    We were joined by Mohammed Qatani, of the independent Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association.
    He said there were 30,000 political prisoners in the kingdom, some of whom had been held for years without trial. The authorities say that people are jailed for security reasons.
    “People are glued to their TVs, watching and learning,” he said. “I think the momentum is building.”
    The authorities had to give some signals about reform now. “Things could escalate quite quickly and then by the time you make concessions, it is going to be too late.”
    Men sat on the floor, eating, Bedouin-style, with their hands from vast trays of lamb and rice.
    Even here, in a gathering of human rights activists, most said they would probably not go out onto the streets tomorrow.
    Political debate in Saudi Arabia is still something carried out in private, in people’s homes, or anonymously, on the internet. You cannot hold rallies and street protest is illegal, as are political parties.
    Given all that, any kind of gathering on Friday – however small – would send tremors through the government.
    Neither the authorities nor the activists know exactly what to expect – but probably not a repeat of what has happened in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya.

    Or, as blogger Fouad al-Farhan told me: “Saudi Arabia is not like other countries – where people have nothing to lose. Here, they will be cautious. So many Saudis still have something they don’t want to lose.”

  7. Saudi protesters renew call for reform
    Thu Mar 10, 2011 1:16AM
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    Saudi protesters chant slogans and hold pictures of jailed demonstrators during a protest in Qatif on March 9, 2011.
    Protesters in Saudi Arabia have poured into the streets to demand the ruling regime freedom in the monarchy and release political prisoners, despite a ban on demonstrations.

    In Saudi Arabia, protest rallies and any other public display of dissent are forbidden and considered illegitimate.

    Around 200 protesters, mostly young men, staged another protest on Wednesday in the kingdom’s oil producing city of Qatif in the east, in defiance of the ban on demonstrations, Reuters quoted witnesses as saying.

    The protesters also demanded the release of prisoners they say are held without trial.

    The protest was a prelude to the planned “Day of Rage” on Friday, which is meant to demand the ouster of the Saudi royal family.

    The Wednesday protests came despite a warning last week by senior Wahhabi clerics in the kingdom who censured opposition demonstrations as “un-Islamic.”

    Before the protests, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that dialogue is the best way to bring about change in Saudi Arabia, and threatened strong action against activists protesting on the streets.

    Police in large numbers were deployed in the streets of Qatif. The city is located close to Bahrain, which has been the scene of large protests by majority Shias against their Sunni rulers.

    Shias have staged protests for about two weeks in the east of Saudi Arabia, mainly to demand the release of prisoners.

    A group of Saudi youths has posted a message on Facebook, calling for a “Saudi Revolution” on March 11 and 20 to demand democratic and political reform in the monarchy.

    The Facebook group has also called for a “Day of Rage” rally on March 11. Tens of thousands of Saudis have already joined the drive.

  8. Saudi says protests don’t fit Islamic state
    Wed Mar 9, 2011 7:18pm GMT Print | Single Page [-] Text [+]
    * Argument remains same – protests are not Islamic

    * Planned Friday, March 11 protests seen as first key test

    * Reforms not keeping up with Internet-savvy youth

    (Updates number of Facebook call supporters, paragraph 4)

    By Andrew Hammond

    DUBAI, March 9 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s ruling family has mobilised the power of its conservative religious establishment to prevent a wave of uprisings against Arab autocrats from roaring into its kingdom, home to more than a fifth of the world’s known oil reserves.

    Whether these traditional tactics will work with a young population that grew up in the information revolution age, with the ability to use the internet to organise and spread awareness of ideas of universal rights to political participation, is still to be tested.

    As revolts that toppled Saudi allies in Egypt and Tunisia encourage democracy activists to challenge rulers around the region, Saudi authorities have tried every means possible to warn people not to dare try the same.

    The day all eyes are fixed on is Friday. More than 32,000 people have backed a call on Facebook to hold two demonstrations this month, the first on March 11 and then March 20.

    The theme running through comments from princes, clerics and newspaper editorialists is that protests in the key U.S.-allied state are not Islamic, the subject of a fatwa issued by the Council of Senior Clerics this week.

    Just two days before Friday, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, the king’s nephew, warned that protests were not allowed and that change could only happen through “the principle of dialogue”.

    They used rhetoric that Saudis are long used to, based on the idea that Saudi Arabia is unique as a country that replicates the early Islamic state — and Islamic Utopia where God’s word is law and allegiance to the ruler is non-negotiable.

    They cited Koranic verses and their perception of the early Muslim state established by Prophet Mohammad to argue that reform should come via advice and not street protests, and even argue that signing petitions “violates what God ordered”.

    But Fouad Ibrahim, who has written studies on Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi school of Islam, said the word of the senior scholars had far less authority now that it did in the past.

    “‘We live in an Islamic state, we are not like Egypt and Tunisia, we implement sharia law, there is not enough reason for people to revolt against the Islamic state’ — these claims used to be marketed but many people don’t believe this any more,” said Ibrahim, who is based in London.


    Wahhabism — the Saudi interpretation of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islamic law — stands out for its insistence that the ruler should be obeyed at all costs. Its clerics also frown on political parties, which are banned in the country.

    But following the 1990-1 Gulf crisis — when the government clerics shocked many by authorising U.S. troops on Saudi soil — many Wahhabi scholars broke away.

    More politically active, they presented petitions to the royal family that argued the state had veered away from Islamic principles in domestic and foreign policies. They supported the idea of parliamentary elections.

    Many of those scholars, who were imprisoned for their insolence, have more credibility than the government-backed clerics among Saudis today.

    One of them, Salman al-Odah, who has a programme each week on pan-Arab channel MBC1, put his signature to a reform petition last month and has made pro-reform comments on social media site Twitter this week. “The youth must be given some freedom to criticise,” he said on Wednesday.

    Saudi clerics have been split over support for uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Their supporters on Islamist websites fear protests will play into Iranian hands by emboldening Shi’ites, who have already started protesting over the past two weeks in the Eastern Province where most Saudi oilfields lie.

    The clerics, given wide powers in society through a historic pact with the Saudi family, also fear protests will benefit liberals who want to rein in the religious establishment.

    Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, and officials often argue this gives the kingdom a special status in Islam akin go the Vatican for Catholics.


    Saudis can pick and choose between the opinions of clerics inside and outside the country, or ignore them altogether.

    Abdelkarim al-Khidr, an Islamic jurisprudence professor at Qassim University, has published a study circulating among activists that justifies protests from a Wahhabi standpoint.

    “Demonstrations are not violating Islam. Honest people should demonstrate because it’s time for it and petitions didn’t bring us progress,” he told Reuters in Riyadh this week.

    Blogger Eman Al-Nafjan said although many Saudi youth were conservative in outlook, that did not mean they followed blindly the words of the official religious establishment.

    But the clerics’ forbidding of signing petitions had made them look out of date, she said. “The fatwa works against the scholars, they lost a lot of people by issuing it. We already know that the religious scholars are easily bought and they say what they are told to say,” Nafjan said.

    The interconnected nature of the new generation of Saudis was putting Saudi claims of cultural particularism to their biggest test yet, Ibrahim said.

    Deposed rulers Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia as well as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who is battling rebels for his survival, all tried to argue that some unique facet of their country would prevent change.

    “They all say this. Mubarak said that when Ben Ali was removed. Gaddafi has said Libya is different. (Saudi Interior Minister) Prince Nayef told newspaper editors ‘we are different because we implement sharia’,” Ibrahim said. (Additional reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Samia

  9. Saudi Arabia Invades Bahrain
    March 1, 2011 – National International


    Saudi Arabia has sent about 30 armed tanks into Bahrain via the King Fahd causeway which links the two countries together.

    Egypt’s Al-Masry Al-Youm reported the story as unrest continues to disrupt the middle east, sending oil prices rocketing skywards for the world economy.

  10. سعودی عرب میں یوم الغضب

    ہم ایک سرکردہ شیعہ رہنما سے ان کے گھر پر انٹرویو کر رہے تھے کہ ایک آواز آئی ’غیر ملکیوں سے بات مت کرو۔‘

    ٹیلی فون کی گھنٹی ان کی بات میں مخل ہوئی۔ یہ کوئی سرکاری ایجنسی کا آدمی تھا جو ہمارا پیچھا کرتے ہوئے ان کے گھر تک آن پہنچا تھا اور گھر کے باہر ہی کھڑا تھا۔

    ڈاکٹر توفیق السیف ہنسے اور انھوں نے فون رکھ دیا۔ انھوں نے کہا کہ انھیں اندازہ نہیں کہ اب چیزیں کتنی بدل گئی ہیں۔

    ہم سعودی عرب کے مشرقی شہر قطیف میں تھے جو سعودی عرب میں شیعہ آبادی کا علاقہ ہے اور جہاں گزشتہ ہفتے حکومت مخالف جلوس بھی نکالے گئے تھے۔

    ان مظاہرین میں زیادہ تر وہ لوگ شریک ہوئے جن کے رشتہ دار قید میں ہیں اور وہ ان کی رہائی کا مطالبہ کر رہے تھے۔

    کچھ لوگ ملک کے مختلف شہروں میں اس جمعہ کو ’یوم الغضب‘ کے طور پر منانے کی کوششیں کر رہے ہیں۔

    سیاسی اصلاحات کا مطالبہ ابھی کئی حلقوں کی طرف سے کیا جا رہا ہے جن میں شیعہ، سنی، قدامت پسند اور معتدل خیالات کے سب ہی لوگ شامل ہیں۔ اسی وجہ سے حکام کو خطرہ ہے۔

    ڈاکٹر السیف نے جو ایک شیعہ دانشور ہیں دوسرے سرگرم لوگوں کے ساتھ ایک مشترکہ مقصد بنا لیا ہے۔

    انھوں نے انٹر نیٹ پر موجود تین میں سے دو یاداشتوں پر دستخط کر رکھے ہیں جن میں سلطنت میں زیادہ جمہوریت کا مطالبہ کیا گیا ہے۔

    ایک وقت ایسا تھا کہ بی بی سی سے بات کرنے کے جرم میں انھیں گرفتار کر لیا جاتا اور ایسا اب بھی ہو سکتا ہے۔

    انھوں نے مجھ سے کہا کہ تیونس، مصر، بحرین اور لیبیا کے بعد مشرقی وسطی میں حالات بدل گئے ہیں اور سعودی عرب ان حالات سے الگ نہیں ہے۔

    انھوں نے کہا کہ مشرق وسطیٰ میں ہر ریاست پریشانی کا شکار ہے اور انھیں پریشان ہونا بھی چاہیے۔

    انھوں نے کہا کہ وہ تبدریج تبدیلی چاہتے ہیں نہ کہ انقلاب۔

    ’میں نہیں سمجھتا کہ لبرل ڈیموکریسی کو کل ہی لایا جا سکتا ہے لیکن ہمیں کہیں سے تو شروع کرنا ہوگا۔‘

    برابری، قانون کی عملداری، ملک اس کے لیے تیار ہے اور ہمیں اس عمل کو شروع کرنا چاہیے۔‘

    مظاہرین ابتداء میں سیاسی قیدیوں کی رہائی کا مطالبہ کر رہے تھے لیکن اب ان کے مطالبات بڑھ گئے ہیں۔

    اس ملاقات کے بعد حکام نے بڑے احترام مگر سخت الفاظ میں ہمیں ملک کے مشرقی حصے سے نکل جانے کو کہا۔

    لیکن اس سے پہلے کے ہمیں دارالحکومت واپس بھیجنے کے لیے جہاز پر سوار کرایا جاتا، سرکاری اہلکاروں نے چند حکومت کے حامیوں سے ہماری بات کرانے کا انتظام کر دیا۔

    وہ اس بات سے پریشان تھے کہ ایک قبائلی سماج میں ڈیموکریسی کس طرح کام کر سکتی ہے۔

    قطیب شہر کے ایک اعلی گھرانے سے تعلق رکھنے والے عدیب الخنوزی نے کہا کہ استحکام اور سکیورٹی اس خطے کے لیے بہت اہم ہیں۔

    ایک سرکردہ تاجر سلمان الجسی نے کہا کہ لوگوں کو بادشاہ سے پیار ہے اور ایک ایسے ملک میں جہاں لوگ اپنی درخواستیں براہ راست حکمرانوں تک لے جا سکتے ہیں وہاں ڈیموکریسی کی ضرورت نہیں ہے۔

    انھوں نے کہا کہ یہاں دروازے کھلے ہیں۔ یہاں پر آپ فون اٹھائیں اور براہ راست کسی شہزادے سے بات کریں وہ آپ کے مسائل سنے گا۔ ہمارا نظام مختلف ہے۔ میرے خیال میں آپ اپنے ملک میں بھی جس وقت چاہیں وزیر سے نہیں مل سکتے۔

    یہ سعودی عرب ہے جس کا نام ایک خاندان السعود کے نام پر رکھا گیا ہے۔

    بادشاہ عبداللہ کے اقتدار کے لیے ابھی مسئلہ نہیں ہے۔ حال ہی میں صحت یابی کے بعد وطن واپس لوٹنے پر انھوں نے تیئس ارب ڈالر کی رقم تنخواہوں میں اضافے، امدادی رقوم اور تحائف کے لیے مختص کرنے کا اعلان کیا تھا۔

    یہ گاجر تھی۔ وزارت داخلہ نے ڈنڈا دکھایا اور ایک بیان میں لوگوں کو یاد دہانی کروائی کہ ریاست میں کسی بھی قسم کا مظاہرہ کرنا غیر قانونی ہے اور خبردار کیا کہ کسی بھی ممکنہ بدامنی سے نمٹنے کے لیے ہر ممکن قدم لیا جائے گا۔

    وزارتِ داخلہ کے ترجمان میجر جنرل الترکی نے مجھ سے کہا کہ سکیورٹی فورسز کسی بھی مظاہرہ کو پھیلنے سے پہلے کچلنے کے لیے بہت تیزی سے کارروائی کریں گی۔

    انھوں نے کہا کہ گولی چلانے کا کوئی حکم نہیں۔ اور قوت کے استعمال کا بھی کوئی حکم نہیں۔ انھوں نے کہا کہ ان کے اہلکار مظاہرین سے نمٹنے کے لیے تربیت یافتہ ہیں۔ وہ حج کے دوران اس طرح کے واقعات کا سامنا کرتے رہتے ہیں۔

    بلاگ لکھنے والے ایک شحص فواہد الفرحان نے جو قید میں بھی رہ چکے ہیں مجھ سے کہا کہ مظاہرے اس معاشرے کی روایت نہیں ہے۔ سعودی عرب کی اکثریت نے کبھی مظاہرے نہیں دیکھے۔ یہ ایک رکاوٹ ہے کیا لوگ باہر نکلیں گے یہ ایک بڑا سوال ہے۔

    یہ سوال ریاض میں کھانے کی میز پر ایک اور بلاگ لکھنے والے شخص کے ساتھ زیر بحث آیا۔ انھوں نے بتایا کہ وہ بھی قید بھگت چکے ہیں اور ان کا جرم یہ تھا کہ انھوں نے فیس بک پر موروثی اقتدار پر بحث کی تھی۔

    سعودی عرب میں شہری اور سیاسی آزادیوں کے حقوق کی تنظیم کے کارکن محمد قطینی بھی اس بحث میں شامل ہو گئے۔

    انھوں نے کہا کہ سلطنت میں تیس ہزار کے قریب سیاسی قیدی ہیں اور ان میں کچھ کو برسوں بغیر مقدمہ چلائے قید و بند کی صعوبتیں برداشت کرنا پڑ رہی ہیں۔ حکام کہتے ہیں کہ انھیں سکیورٹی کی وجوہات کی بنا پر قید میں رکھا گیا ہے۔

    لوگ ٹی وی سیٹس سے چپکے ہوئے ہیں اور حالات دیکھے رہے ہیں اور اس طرح ایک تحریک پیدا ہو رہی ہے۔

    حکام کو اب اصلاحات کے کچھ اشارے دینے ہوں گے۔ حالات تیزی سے بدل سکتے ہیں اور جب تک آپ کچھ مطالبات تسلیم کرنے پر تیار ہوتے ہیں بہت دیر ہو چکی ہوتی ہے۔

    لوگ زمین پر بیٹھ کر بدوؤں کی طرح ایک بڑے سے طباق میں سے ہاتھوں سے چاول اور دمبے کا گوشت کھا رہے تھے۔

    اس مجلس میں بھی جہاں بہت سے انسانی حقوق کے کارکن جمع تھے کچھ لوگ کہہ رہے تھے کہ وہ کل کے مظاہرے میں شرکت کے لیے نہیں نکلیں گے۔

    سعودی عرب میں سیاسی بحث اب بھی لوگ گھروں اور نجی محفلوں میں کرتے ہیں یا پھر وہ نام ظاہر کیے بغیر انٹر نیٹ پر۔ آپ جلوس نہیں نکال سکتے اور سیاسی پارٹیوں کی طرح سڑکوں پر مظاہرے کرنے پر بھی پابندی ہے۔

    اس صورت حال میں جمعہ کو چھوٹا سا مظاہرہ بھی حکومت کی پریشانی کے لیے کافی ہو گا۔

    حکام اور مظاہرے کے منتظمین دونوں کو یہ یقین نہیں ہے کہ کیا ہو گا لیکن یہ ضرور ہے کہ مصر، تیونس اور لیبیا جیسے واقعات رونما نہیں ہوں گے۔

    .بلاگ لکھنے وال فواد الفرحان نے مجھ سے کہا کہ سعودی عرب دوسرے ملکوں کی طرح نہیں ہے جہاں لوگوں کے پاس کھونے کے لیے کچھ نہیں ہے اس لیے یہاں لوگ محتاط ہیں۔ بہت سے سعودی باشندوں کے پاس کچھ ہے جسے وہ کھونا نہیں چاہتے۔

  11. MAR 10, 2011 by ■ Leo Reyes – 2 comments

    Saudi Arabia warns about interference in domestic affairs

    Prince Saud al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and nephew of the Kingdom’s ruler King Abdullah, said Wednesday his country rejects any foreign interference in its domestic affairs.
    Addressing protests by Shiites in the majority Sunni Kingdom in recent days to demand more freedom and democracy, the influential Foreign Minister said Saudi Arabia “rejects any foreign interference in its internal affairs.”
    The Prince said change would come from within as he warned that Shiites protests will not bring reform and instead urged for peaceful dialogue.
    “Change will come through the citizens of this kingdom and not through foreign fingers, we don’t need them,” he said during a news conference. “We will cut any finger that crosses into the kingdom.”, the Prince said.
    Most recent protests started in January when hundreds of protesters gathered in Jeddah where 11 people were killed after police acted swiftly to disperse the protesters.
    Last month, some 40 women wearing black clothes staged a small demonstration in Riyadh calling for the release of prisoners who are being held without trial.
    On February 18, founding members of the newly formed Umma Islamic Party, were arrested by police and were asked to withdraw their demands for the end of absolute monarchy in the Kingdom in exchange for their release.
    Last week several arrests were made by police on a group protesters in Al-Awamiyah, Qatif, Riyadh and Hofuf for criticizing the monarchy.
    Alarmed by the sustained efforts of protesters, authorities reminded them that such actions are banned under existing laws and they will be enforced.
    A “Day of Rage” is being planned by the protesters on March 11, demanding ouster of the regime and a call for election for national leadership, among others.
    The protesters are using Facebook to rally supporters to their cause which they said had 26,000 members as of March 5.
    Meanwhile fears of heightened protests in the region including Saudi Arabia are causing apprehension among investors. reports, “If the demonstrations and unrest spread to Saudi, there is a real danger seven or eight million barrels of oil per day could fall,” says Nigel Rendell, emerging market strategist at RBC Capital Markets. “If that happens, people’s guesses on the oil market are wide open, which will have a huge impact on the market in the region and other countries.”

    Read more:

  12. Signs of dissent becoming more visible among Saudi Arabian youths

    By Janine Zacharia
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Thursday, March 10, 2011; 6:32 PM

    JIDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA — It is 9 p.m. on a Monday, and the Jasur bookstore cafe in Jiddah’s chic Hamra district is hopping. Upstairs, Saudi men and women pack a poetry reading, while downstairs a book club discusses Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, “Blink.” Nearby, a team of young comic writers is hashing out the latest in a series of YouTube episodes that satirize Saudi politics and society.

    “Don’t get me wrong,” Hasan Eid, the editor of a poetry anthology, reads from a new collection. “I love my country to death. But what I see every day makes me sigh under my breath.”

    With some Saudi men in jeans, others in traditional thobes, and women in black abayas, the emergence of the trendy literary scene is nothing short of groundbreaking in this conservative kingdom, where the mixing of sexes is largely prohibited and movie theaters are banned.

    A growing frustration with Saudi political and social behaviors has been visible throughout the kingdom in recent weeks, as measured in budding protests, bolder blog posts and petitions asking King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to loosen up his rule.

    But the discontent is particularly palpable among the young and educated in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia’s historically most progressive city on the Red Sea, which has long been at odds with the more religiously conservative capital, Riyadh. The new cafe has become a hub for young intellectuals to share ideas as the Middle East undergoes the most sweeping period of change in their lifetimes.

    Inspired by their counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world, Jiddah’s 20-somethings are ablaze on Facebook, blogs and Twitter, tweeting away on iPhones and BlackBerrys about government corruption and the need for political reform, while organizing social gatherings such as those at the bookstore that have long been taboo.

    The cafe, called Jasur, or Bridges, opened nine months ago; its owners said they wanted to create a business that could help the community. That the government hasn’t tried to disrupt events at the shop might signal a growing tolerance among local authorities. But the mixing of sexes in public settings remains otherwise rare because of government scrutiny and rules.

    Even before the spirit of revolution spread across the Arab world, residents of Jiddah had been in an iconoclastic mood. A massive flood in January displaced thousands of people and damaged 95 percent of the city’s streets, prompting complaints from local residents about the absence of an effective government response.

    Jiddah’s young reformers have stopped short of calling for the kinds of street protests that toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia and have left others under threat. In interviews, young Saudis said they are determined that whatever happens in Saudi Arabia remains orderly.

    “We don’t want a revolution,” said Mahmoud Sabbagh, 28, a prominent Jiddah blogger and leader of local activists. Instead, Sabbagh said, the kingdom needs to take small steps toward greater democracy and the kind of freedom manifest in the new cafe culture.

    “We need to take this phenomenon,” Sabbagh said of the lively discussions unfolding at the bookstore, “and turn it into a right.”

    Sabbagh recently gave up a column at the Saudi newspaper al-Watan to focus his activism online through Twitter and other social media. Last month, he was one of five core drafters of a petition sent by 45 students and others to the king asking for political reforms, and he routinely fields calls from princes in the Saudi royal court who want to keep informed of youth sentiment in the city.

    His tweets are typical of those of his generation. As security services in Egypt tried to keep a lid on documents detailing past treatment of political prisoners by the country’s Interior Ministry, Sabbagh wrote that “this should end an era in the Arab region of spying on their own people.” When female booksellers and readers were harassed by religious police at a recent international book fair in Riyadh, he tweeted, “Are we about to witness a new McCarthyism in Saudi?”

    Among the most notable shifts, Sabbagh said, has been the willingness of Saudis to move beyond anonymity in registering their complaints. “People put their names on Facebook and Twitter,” he said. “People don’t care anymore. They act bravely.”

    One of the boldest displays of the new courage is a YouTube show, “At-Tayer,” loosely translated, “On the Fly.”

    The webisodes – mock newscasts and skits similar to those on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” – have drawn up to 380,000 viewers per episode. One recent show, which is in Arabic and intended primarily for a Saudi audience, was for one day the 15th most viewed worldwide in YouTube’s entertainment category.

    The episodes have poked fun at a range of targets, including the kingdom’s minister of information, the high salaries paid to the shura council that advises the king, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and the oddities of Saudi society, such as how boredom drives Saudis to find excuses to celebrate in the streets. But it has stopped short of overt jokes about the king, who remains admired, including among Jiddah’s younger generation.

    Lead comedian Omar Hussein – a product-line manager at Proctor & Gamble who does part-time stand-up – is 24, and the two main writers, Dima Ikhwan and Lama Sabry, are 22-year-old women. They are all part of a bilingual, new-media-savvy generation that seems to not even realize there might be something to fear.

    “We don’t cross any red lines,” said Hussein, explaining why he thinks the government hasn’t tried to block the show. “We never offend a person.” The Web series, which receives enormous feedback from online viewers, he says, is simply “helping break down barriers and letting people talk.”

  13. Saudi Arabia prepares for ‘day of rage’ protests

    10 March 2011 Last updated at 22:42 Help
    Protestors have taken to the streets in the city of Katif for a second night, before a so-called “day of rage” against Saudi Arabia’s rulers planned for Friday.

    There are reports of the police firing stun grenades and live bullets to disperse the crowd.

    One minister there has warned that the government will “cut off any finger” raised against it.

    The Saudi authorities place foreign journalists under tight restrictions but the BBC’s Paul Wood has sent this special report on whether the unrest in Libya and Egypt is spreading to Saudi Arabia.

    MARCH 10, 2011, 7:11 PM ET
    Videos of the Protests in Saudi Arabia

    By WSJ Staff

    These videos taken by protesters that marched in the Saudi city of Qaif Thursday show scenes of a peaceful demonstration that is startled by the sound of shots fired in the distance. Some protesters disagree with the government’s assessment that police had to fire the shots in order to break up the crowds after some demonstrators attacked the police. At least three people were injured and are currently being treated at Qatif’s hospital, Saudi activists said.

    In the first two videos the protesters are chanting “peacful, peaceful” when the shots ring out. The Qatif protesters were calling for the release of prisoners held without trial and for political reforms. One protester is holding a sign that read “15 years is Enough” in reference to sentence served by one of the prisioners. There is a silence after the first shots ring, then the crowd chants “peaceful, peaceful” again

    Some protesters can be heard chanting “No Sunnis, no Shiites, we are unified Muslims,” and, “We are victorious and God is helping us.” When the shots ring out the crowds go quiet, people look to the sides to see where the shots are coming from.

    The next two videos show the crowds marching after the shots were fired.

    Middle East unrest, Saudi Arabia

  14. “Marvellous” comments from a WSJ blog, show a Saudi Wahhabi candid perspective on Shias:

    March 11, 2011
    umair wrote:
    No need for any change. All most all protestors are shiites they are like the mosqitous of KSA catch them, bind them and leave in the empty quarter for dying.These all protestors are the ajents of Jews and anti muslims christians want to disturb the peace of KSA.We all saudis along with the expatriates and muslim world with the Government of KSA.

    2:12 pm March 11, 2011
    bummer wrote:
    Hey no need to reform one of the most oppressive regimes (and home of the 911 hijackers). Good thing the U.S. war profiteer industry has made sure that the gov’t can crack down with a fiery fist.

    7:31 pm March 11, 2011
    Nomair wrote:
    CRACK DOWN !! XD XD ha ha ha
    Saudi people are working hand in hand with the government against any protests. We have our Islamic system of democracy. They want to talk, they should go to the king in groups to talk. We don’t accept this kind of shouting and screaming in the streets. I am in Saudi Arabia and Honestly I don’t see any protests except in Western and Iranian media. Most of what I see I believe is happening in Baharin NOT in Saudi Arabia. However, liars like your people trying hard to make it look like as if there is protest when there is not any. By the way, Saudi people already figured out the trick of your media which wants to provoke both worlds [Arabic and Western] to make them believe that there is protest when there is not any. The reason is to CRACK DOWN governments without wars. ha ha ha but I shall say that is in your dream because Saudi people are smart enough to know this cheap techniques of your economically militarily desparate country to achieve goal in the middle east before it dies.

  15. Reportedly few turned up on 11 March to protest after announcing it a big day; that is no good sign on the part of Saudis where peoples find themselves so restricted; enslaved and are simply let to live a vegetative lives.

    If Saudi Monarchs are just peoples then where is the just distribution of God given mineral wealth that belongs to the peoples. Where are the peoples who could have their say and are seen in control of the affairs of their own home land?

    Why Saudis are so degraded that they have to look up to the bribe of 37 billions and then keep shut.

    Saudis are sponsoring the GCC meeting of all the tyrants of ME to ask the west to employ no fly Zone in Libya in favour of the rebel national council of Libya; what a hypocrisy helping the opposition rebel of Libya and gagging their own protestors at home gagged.

  16. shiites and all other democratic people of KSA have got their inalienable right to protest against unjust rule of king of KSA. Wave of change is unstoppable khalifas of bahrain and KSA would be wiped out very soon, people are well aware of their fundamental rights so it is fruitless to take brutal measures against protestors. I can see a great revolt of liberal people against all such dictators for to establish real democracy in muslim world.

  17. سعودی عرب کا معملا تیونس ،لیبیا یا مصر سے مختلف ہے
    پہلی بعد تو یہ کہ سودی عرب کے معاشی حالات کافی اچھے ہیں دوری وجہ یہ کے بادشاہت مخالف جذبات تبدیل ہو کر مذہبی فرق میں تبدیل ہو گئے .اور اب یہ مظاہرے صرف شیعہ کی کرتے ہوئے نظر اتے ہیں جس کی وجہ سے سننی فطری طور پر حکومت کے حمیتی بن گئے
    شیعوں کی طرف سے مظاہرے جمہوریت کے لیہ نہیں بلکے شیوں کے بارے میں دوہرا معیار رکھنے پر ہو رہے ہیں اور ان قیدیوں کے لیہ بھی جن پر بغیر مقدمہ چلا یے سعودی حکمرانوں نے قید کیا ہوا ہے

    مظاہروں کی ایک اور وجہ خالصتان مذہبی ہے وہ یہ کہ شیعہ مولوی یہ خواب دیکھتے ہیں کہ وہ یہ وہابی حکومت گرا کر ایک نہ ایک دن مکہ اور مدینہ پر قبضہ کر لیں گے اور یہ جب ہوگا جب ان کا بارہواں امام جو کسی غارمیں ہے وہ آ ایں گے .اس مذہبی نظریے کو ایران کی پشت پناہی حاصل ہے .جبکے وہابی ملاؤں کا بس چلے تو ایران اور شیعوں کا نان نفقہ بند کر دیں
    یہ دو ملاؤں میں مرغی حرام والی بات ہے
    ایران اور سعودی عرب دونوں میں مذہب کو اپنا اقتدار قائم رکھنے کے لیہ استمال کیا جاتا ہے

  18. Saudi Arabia Demonstrators Hold Peaceful Rally in al-Qatif
    By Donna Abu Nasr – Mar 16, 2011 7:45 PM GMT

    7More Print Email
    About 1,000 people in Saudi Arabia’s eastern city of al-Qatif defied a ban on demonstrations and protested peacefully to demand the country’s troops end their incursion into Bahrain.

    Protesters chanted and held signs that called on the government to stay out of Bahrain, according to Ali Hassan, 26, who took part in the march. He said the march veered away from security forces to avoid a confrontation.

    A separate protest was held in the city of Awwamiya, according to Jasim al-Awwami, 27, who participated in it.

    Regional unrest, which has toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, has reached Saudi Arabia’s neighbors Yemen, Oman and Bahrain, the island-kingdom where a Sunni family rules the majority Shiite population. In Libya, Muammar Qaddafi is fighting rebels who seek to end his four-decade rule.

    Bahrain’s Shiites make up about 70 percent of the population and many retain cultural and family ties with Iran, as well as with Shiites in Saudi Arabia, who are a minority of about 10 to 15 percent.

    Saudi Shiites have been holding protests every Thursday and Friday for the past few weeks in towns and villages a short drive from the Bahrain causeway connecting the two countries.

    Bahrain security forces drove protesters from their rallying point at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama yesterday leaving two demonstrators and two police officers dead.

    Bahrain Curfew

    The military imposed a curfew on parts of Bahrain from 4 p.m. until 4 a.m. and banned protests and public gatherings until further notice, an army spokesman said on state television.

    Bahrain this week declared a three-month state of emergency after troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states arrived to help quell a month of protests driven by Shiites, who are calling for democracy and civil rights. Some groups have escalated their demands to include the overthrow of the Sunni rulers, the Al Khalifa family, and the creation of a republic.

    Crude oil for April delivery rose 80 cents, or 0.8 percent, to settle at $97.98 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil is 20 percent higher than a year ago.

    Protests are outlawed in the kingdom, whose ruling family applies a strict version of Sunni Islam.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu Nasr in Dubai at

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at