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The Growing Rebellion in Saudi Arabia

The Growing Rebellion in Saudi Arabia
By Jess Hill – 24 February, 2012 – The Global Mail

Saudi Arabia’s King has been unusually outspoken against Syria’s regime. But what about the rebellion in his own Kingdom? And what kind of ruler will his heir apparent be?

On Saudi Arabia’s much-anticipated ‘Day of Rage’ last year, government minders drove a BBC crew into the centre of the capital, Riyadh, to film the ‘no-show’. Police had locked down the capital, and they were confident nobody would show up.

Imagine their shock, then, when Khaled al-Johani, a teacher and father of five, walked straight up to the BBC crew, and said: “The royal family don’t own us! We have a right to speak.” As government minders closed in on the group, he grew more emphatic: “If you speak, they will put you in jail after five minutes!” When the BBC reporter asked him what would happen to him, he replied, “I will go in the jail with a big smile – because I am already in a jail!”(Al-Johani was arrested that day, and has been in prison since March. He stood trial in a closed court on February 22; the verdict has not been made public.)

Al-Johani was outspoken, but he was just one man. The world’s investment community breathed a sigh of relief. Why were we so worried about this ‘day of rage’? Saudis don’t protest. Most of them are too comfortable, and internal security is too effective. The Arab Spring won’t come to Saudi Arabia.

But they were wrong.

Saudis are protesting. They’ve been protesting for over a year. Their numbers are growing. And there’s no sign of them stopping.

It’s all happening in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, home to most of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, and 90 per cent of its oil. Seven people have been shot dead by Saudi security forces since October 2011, two in the past month alone. The Saudi Interior Ministry says these deaths resulted from gun battles between protesters and police. But in all amateur videos that show protesters being shot, there is no evidence that protesters were shooting back.

There have been remarkable scenes of rebellion. One photograph, taken on February 10 this year, shows a young man hurling an effigy of Crown Prince Nayef at a row of armoured anti-riot tanks. It’s an extraordinary provocation. Prince Nayef is not only the head of the Interior Ministry – he’s also the heir to the throne.

But it’s not just a few people defying the

Prince. On February 13, at a funeral for the most recent ‘martyr’, 21-year-old Zuhair al Said, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets, chanting “No Sunna, No Shia, but Islamic unity! We’re not afraid, down with Nayef! You’re the terrorist, you’re the criminal, you’re the butcher, ya Nayef!”

“We will never rest, country of oppressors! Son of Saud [royal family], hear the voice! We will never give up ’til death!”

Prince Nayef responded with his own threat. On February 20, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said these protests were the ‘new terrorism’, and were being ‘manipulated from abroad’ (read: Iran). The Ministry would confront them with ‘an iron fist’, he said, just like it confronted Al Qaeda.

Toby Jones, an expert on Saudi Arabia at Rutgers University, says this statement is emblematic of Prince Nayef’s ruling style, and his worldview. “He is a hardliner: he believes in the use of repression, he is sectarian, he is ideologically anti-Shiite,” says Jones. The incumbent, King Abdullah “was practical, and would talk to Shias.”

Eighty-seven-year-old King Abdullah is widely admired – even by many dissenters – but he’s ailing. It’s expected that Prince Nayef will soon inherit his throne. “Nayef is a scary guy, and a move towards crushing communities has to have his fingerprints all over it,” says Jones, “because nobody else in the royal family thinks that’s a smart move.”


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