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The 2011 Saudi Arabian protests have been influenced by the 2010–2011 Middle East and North Africa protests starting in Tunisia. One of the main online organisers of a planned 11 March "Day of Rage", Faisal Ahmed Abdul-Ahad (or Abdul-Ahadwas), was alleged to have been killed by Saudi security forces on 2 March, by which time one of the Facebook groups discussing the plans had over 26,000 members.
Protests, made up mainly of Shia protesters, occurred in Qatif and smaller cities in the Eastern Province such as al-Awamiyah, and Hofuf. They called for the release of prisoners and for the Peninsula Shield Force to be withdrawn from Bahrain. The Shias also demanded equal representation in key offices and reforms in political positions as they feel marginalised.
- 1 Background
- 2 Protests
- 2.1 Timeline
- 2.1.1 29 January
- 2.1.2 5 February
- 2.1.3 10 February
- 2.1.4 17 February
- 2.1.5 24 February
- 2.1.6 25 February
- 2.1.7 Late February
- 2.1.8 3–4 March
- 2.1.9 9–10 March
- 2.1.10 11 March – "Day of Rage"
- 2.1.11 13 March
- 2.1.12 15–18 March
- 2.1.13 20 March–1 April
- 2.1.14 5 April
- 2.1.15 8 April
- 2.1.16 10 April
- 2.1.17 14–15 April
- 2.1.18 21–22 April
- 2.1.19 23–25 April
- 2.1.20 29 April
- 2.1.21 May
- 2.1 Timeline
- 3 Response
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
The politics of Saudi Arabia takes place in a framework of a particular form of absolute monarchy whereby the King of Saudi Arabia is both head of state and the head of government, but where decisions are to a large extent made on the basis of consultation among the senior princes, with the King functioning as primus inter pares and ultimate arbiter. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the male descendants of King Abd Al Aziz Al Saud, and that the Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law (Shari'a). An unidentified 65-year-old man died on 21 January after setting himself on fire in the town of Samtah, Jizan. This was apparently the kingdom's first known case of self-immolation.
On 29 January, hundreds of protesters gathered in the city of Jeddah in a rare display of criticism against the city's poor infrastructure after deadly floods swept through the city, killing eleven people. Police stopped the demonstration about 15 minutes after it started. About 30 to 50 people were arrested. On the same day, an online campaign started on Facebook, making demands that included calling for Saudi Arabia to become a constitutional monarchy, and for "an end to corruption, an even distribution of wealth, and a serious solution for unemployment".
On 10 February, a Thomson Reuters report claimed that 10 intellectuals, human rights activists and lawyers came together to create the Umma Islamic Party – considered to be the first political party in Saudi Arabia since the 1990s – to demand the end of absolute monarchy in the country. On 18 February, all ten founding members of the party were arrested and ordered to withdraw demands for political reform in exchange for their release.
According to Reuters Africa, a small protest was held by Shia in the small town of Al-Awamiyah, near Qatif in the Eastern Province to demand the release of three political prisoners held since protests in the town on March 19, 2009 protesting an arrest warrant against the town's Shia imam, Sheikh Nimr Bagir al Namr. The prisoners were identified as Ali Ahmad al Faraj, the sheikh's 16-year old nephew, and two others, Ali Salih Abdul Jabbar and Makki Al Abbas. The three prisoners were released on February 20.
A protest was held in Qatif by Shi'a Muslims to demand the release of additional political prisoners.  Video posted to YouTube confirms the existence and location of the protest, showing the roundabout 350 meters south of Ohud Road on King Abdelaziz Road.
Brian Whitaker of The Guardian interpreted the creation of a website for people to publish complaints about government services, "shakra.com", the circulation of at least three online petitions calling for political and legal reforms and a call for reform that is "the result of meaningful interaction and dialogue among the different components of a society" by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal as protest actions that "in a Saudi context [are] momentous".
About 100 people, mostly men, and one group of women, marched in Al-Awamiyah and Qatif in the Eastern Province, protesting against prisoners held without trial, calling out "Peaceful, peaceful". In Qatif, 22 of the protestors were arrested. Police responses in Qatif included attacks on women protestors.
Protests following Friday 4 March prayers took place in Riyadh and Hofuf. In Riyadh, at least 3 people were arrested after criticising the monarchy. Both alarmed and annoyed by such action, the Saudi government reminded citizens that public protesting was banned, and that the ban would be strictly enforced.
Protests took place in the evening of 9 March in Qatif. About 600–800 protestors were present at a similar protest on the evening of 10 March, calling for nine prisoners to be released. About 200 police were present. The police used "percussion bombs" and shot at protestors with gunfire for about 10 minutes. Three protestors were injured and hospitalised with "moderate" injuries.
11 March – "Day of Rage"
A "Day of Rage" was planned by Saudi Arabians on 11 March at noon in solidarity with protests in Libya and Bahrain. A Facebook page called for a "March 11 Revolution of Longing" and included demands for "the ousting of the regime" and for the national leader and the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia to be chosen by election. It also called for elections for national leadership, more women's rights and for freeing political prisoners. As of 5 March, one of the Facebook groups calling for the Day of Rage had about 26,000 members.
On 11 March itself, protests continued for the third day in a row in Qatif and extended to Hofuf and al-Amawiyah, with several hundred protestors participating in the three protests. In Riyadh, the police presence was "overwhelming" by early in the morning, with large numbers of police cars present and helicopters that "crisscrossed the skies all day". There was also heavy military and police patrolling in Jeddah. Protests were not seen in Riyadh and Jeddah.
More than 200 people protested outside of the Ministry of the Interior in Riyadh on Sunday 13 March, asking for information about prisoners and their immediate release. Protestor Ahmed Ali said that his brother has been imprisoned for four years and nothing is known about him nor the charges against him. Another protestor said that his father has been in prison for 10 years without receiving medical attention for his colon cancer nor a trial. The protestors asked to meet with the Minister for the Interior Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. The request was refused and entry to the Ministry building was refused.
On 15 March, about 1000 people protested in Qatif calling for the Peninsula Shield Force to be withdrawn from Bahrain, where it is being used against Bahraini protestors. A related protest took place in al-Awamiyah. Hundreds of people protested in Qatif and the nearby region on 16 March, calling for the release of prisoners and expressing support for the 2011 Bahraini protestors. Anti-riot forces were present at the protests. The Qatif demonstration lasted for about half an hour. Protestors called for the Peninsula Shield Force to be withdrawn from Bahrain. The protests continued the following day, 17 March, in and near Qatif, with similar demands, and about 4000 protestors in Qatif. Police fired rubber bullets and several people were injured. One slogan used in the protests was "Bahrain Free Free. Saudi forces out!". Similar protests took place on Friday 18 March, in Qatif, Omran, al-Awamiyah (about 2500 protestors), Safwa City and al-Rabeeya (1000 protestors each). Ten people in Omran were injured from being hit by police batons. One of the slogans in Qatif was "One people not two people — the people of Qatif and Bahrain!"
20 March–1 April
Calls for protests on 20 March were made on a Facebook page in late February.
On 20 March, about 100 people demonstrated outside the Ministry of the Interior in Riyadh, calling for family members imprisoned without trial to be released, for the third time in March, following similar protests on 4 March and 13 March. The demonstrators tried to enter the Ministry building, which was surrounded by about 50 police cars. About 15 to 50 protestors were arrested.
Hundreds demonstrated in Qatif on 20 March against the use of the Peninsula Shield Force troops from the six Gulf Cooperation Council states against the 2011 Bahraini uprising. Thomson Reuters described the intervention in Bahrain as having caused the protests to intensify, reporting an incident in which the second home of Sheikh Wajeeh al-Awjami, a judge calling for street protests to stop, was burnt by angry youths.
About a hundred literacy campaign teachers held a street demonstration outside the Ministry of Civil Services in Riyadh on 5 April, demanding to be employed full-time. Similar demonstrations took place in Ta’if and Tabuk. Officials at the Ministry in Riyadh promised to fulfill the demands.
Hundreds of people again protested in Qatif and al-Awamiyah against the use of the Peninsula Shield Force troops from the six Gulf Cooperation Council states against the 2011 Bahraini uprising and for their own political rights and freedoms. Thomson Reuters stated that no riot police were seen at the Qatif demonstration. Press TV said that there was a heavy presence of security forces at both demonstrations, but no clashes or arrests occurred.
On Sunday 10 April, small protests by literacy teachers and unemployed university graduates regarding labor rights took place in front of the Ministries of Civil Services and Education in Riyadh and the Ministry of Education in Jeddah. Facebook was used for coordinating one of the protests.
Protests against the use of the Peninsula Shield Force troops in the 2011 Bahraini uprising and for local political rights and freedoms, including the release of prisoners held without trial, again took place in Qatif and al-Awamiyah on 14 and 15 April, with about 400–500 protestors in each town and no clashes with police.
Protests for similar reasons again took place in Qatif, al-Awamiyah and Saihat by a few tens to a few hundred protestors. A new complaint made by the protestors was against the destruction of mosques in Bahrain by the Peninsula Shield Force.
In a civil disobedience action from 23–25 April, women in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam tried to register as electors for the 22 September municipal elections despite an official ban against women's participation. The Gulf News said that there was "strong public opinion ... supporting women's participation in the election process" following local newspapers' publication of photos of women waiting in queues to register for the election. Fawzia Al Hani, chair of the "Baladi" Facebook campaign, said that Saudi Arabian law states that women have the right to vote and to stand as candidates.
In the Eastern Province during the days leading up to 29 April, about 20 to 30 people, including two bloggers, were arrested for anti-government activities. On 29 April, a few hundred people demonstrated in Qatif and al-Awamiyah for similar reasons to previous weeks. Five protestors were injured by police in Qatif.
According to Press TV, hundreds of people protested in Qatif on 5 May, hundreds protested in Qatif and al-Awamiyah on 13 May, and protests occurred in Qatif on 20 May. The protests were against the use of the Peninsula Shield Force troops in the 2011 Bahraini uprising, against the arbitrary detention of protestors in previous demonstrations, and for improved human rights, especially freedom of speech.
During the second week of May 2011, a woman inspired by the Arab Spring, Najla Hariri, started driving a car in Jeddah despite a de facto ban on women driving. She stated, "Before in Saudi, you never heard about protests. [But] after what has happened in the Middle East, we started to accept a group of people going outside and saying what they want in a loud voice, and this has had an impact on me." On 21 May, Manal al-Sharif, a women's rights activist who helped start a women's right to drive campaign, was detained for six hours after a video showing her driving in Khobar in the Eastern Province, filmed by another women's rights activist, Wajeha al-Huwaider, gained widespread popularity on YouTube and Facebook. Al-Sharif was detained again the following day and is expected to remain in detention until 5 June 2011. The New York Times and Associated Press associated the long duration of al-Sharif's detention with Saudi authorities' fear of protests. On 23 May, another woman was detained for driving a car. She drove with two women passengers in Ar Rass and was detained by traffic police in the presence of the religious police (CPVPV). She was released after signing a statement that she would not drive again. In reaction to al-Sharif's arrest, several more Saudi women published videos of themselves driving during the following days.
On 10 February, a Thomson Reuters report claimed that 10 intellectuals, human rights activists and lawyers came together to create the Umma Islamic Party – considered to be the first political party in Saudi Arabia since the 1990s – to demand the end of absolute monarchy in the country. On February 18 however, all ten members of the party were arrested and ordered to withdraw demands for political reform in exchange for their release.
On 23 February, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, after returning to the country following three months spent abroad for health treatment, announced a series of benefits for citizens amounting to $10.7 billion. These include funding to offset high inflation and to aid young unemployed people and Saudi citizens studying abroad, as well the writing off some loans. As part of the Saudi scheme, state employees will see their incomes increase by 15 per cent, and additional cash has also been made available for housing loans. No political reforms were announced as part of the package, though the 86-year-old monarch did pardon some prisoners indicted in financial crimes.
On 6 March, the Saudi Arabian Council of Senior Scholars, headed by Grand Mufti Abd al-'Aziz al-Ashaikh, issued a fatwā (religious opinion) opposing petitions and demonstrations, declaring, "Therefore the council hereby reaffirms that only the reform and [counsel] that has its legitimacy is that which may bring welfare and avert the evil, whereas it is illegal to issue statements and take signatures for the purposes of intimidation and inciting the strife. ... reform should not be by demonstrations and other means and methods that give rise to unrest and divide the community. ... The Council affirms prohibition of the demonstrations in this country and [that] the legal method which realizes the welfare without causing destruction rests on the mutual advice." The fatwa included a "severe threat against internal dissent", stating, "[The Prophet] again said: 'He who wanted separate affairs of this nation who are unified, you should kill him with sword whoever he is' (narrated by Muslim)." In late March, Abd al-'Aziz al-Ashaikh called for a million copies of the fatwa to be printed and distributed.
On 22–23 March 2011, officials of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural affairs announced that men-only municipal elections to elect half the members of local councils would held on 22 September 2011. Associated Press described the election announcement as having "coincided with rumblings of dissent in Saudi Arabia stemming from the wave of political unrest in the Arab world."
- Arrests and other repression
About 30 to 50 people were arrested following the 29 January Jeddah demonstration. On 18 February, the ten founding members of the Umma Islamic Party were arrested and ordered to withdraw demands for political reform in exchange for their release.
According to a Deutsche Presse-Agentur report on 2 March, Saudi activists have alleged that one of the main administrators of one of the Facebook groups calling for a "Day of Rage" on 11 March, Faisal Ahmed Abdul-Ahad (or Abdul-Ahadwas), was killed by Saudi security forces, who removed his body in order to "hide evidence of the crime".
On 5 March, thousands of security forces were sent to the north-east, causing delays on the road to Dammam. On the same day, following about two weeks of small protests in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of the Interior warned that the "ban [on] all sorts of demonstrations, marches, sit-ins" imposed by Saudi law would be enforced.
On 9 March, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal stated that the government would not tolerate any street protests against it, while also saying that the "best way to achieve demands is through national dialogue".
On 21 March, Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) co-founder Mohammed Saleh Albejadi (also Al-Bjady) was arrested in Buraidah by Mabahith, the internal security agency. ACPRA stated that the arrest was arbitrary, in violation of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia and the Law of Criminal Procedures.  Both the ACPRA and Human Rights First Society called for his immediate, unconditional release.
In mid-March, Thomson Reuters' chief correspondent in Saudi Arabia, Ulf Laessing, who had reported from Riyadh since 2009, had his journalistic accreditation withdrawn because of his reporting on the early 2011 Saudi Arabian protests, effectively forcing him to leave Saudi Arabia.
Exiled Saudi physicist and political dissident Mohammad al-Massari described police attacks on women in the 3 March Qatif demonstration as a strategic error, saying, "They made a stupid mistake by attacking women and so on because they think Shia women do not have ... the honor protection like the rest of the women in the country. But attacking women in Saudi Arabia, in an Islamic country is very severe, very negative and catastrophic ... and this will have dire repercussions."
On 21 February, oil prices rose in response to the 2011 Libyan uprising and speculation regarding the 11 March Saudi Arabian Day of Rage. The Saudi Tadawul stock market index fell to a seven month low on stability concerns.
On the week of 27 February, global stock prices fell as oil prices increased and silver reached a 30-year high price on stability concerns in the region. Regional stock market indices also fell on concern for Saudi stability.
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