May 11, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3831

Saudi-Born Liberal: The Persecuted Sectors – the Shi'ites, Women, and Alien Residents – are the Fuel of the Coming Saudi Revolution

May 11, 2011
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 3831

In a recent article published on the liberal Arabic-language website, Saudi-born liberal journalist and writer Mansour Al-Hadj wrote that the revolutions sweeping through the Arab world will not pass Saudi Arabia by. He argued that though the recent protests in the kingdom were suppressed by the regime, the revolution will inevitably come; it will be fueled, he said, by the rage and frustration of the disenfranchised sectors in Saudi society: the Shi'ite minority, women, and the alien residents (children of foreign workers who were born in the country yet are denied the right to citizenship), as well as the prisoners who are held without trial and the reformists calling for change. He stressed that the regime's attempts to appease them by improving their living conditions will not be successful, because the majority of Saudis do not actually receive the benefits, and because people deprived of basic rights cannot be bought off with money and material comforts.

The following are excerpts from the article:[1]

The Saudi Regime Did Everything in Its Power to Suppress the Calls for Change

"The royal family of Saudi Arabia heaved a sigh of relief when the 'Hunain Revolution'[2] blew over without causing [it] any harm, after [the regime] did everything in its power to ensure its failure and prevent any future revolution. [It did this] through a massive security presence in the major cities, by enlisting the support of clerics who issued fatwas prohibiting demonstrations and openly calling to kill demonstrators, and by enlisting writers and media personnel who issued a verdict of 'traitor' against anyone calling for reform. [The royal family] also issued royal decrees distributing funds to the people,[3] in order to keep them distracted until the clouds of revolution lifted from the region. These royal decrees, praised by the servants and beneficiaries of the regime, do not even touch the basic problems or offer any solution to the difficulties of those who are oppressed and persecuted – be it the Shi'ites, who are regarded with suspicion and distrust; or the women, who suffer discrimination and are denied the human rights of independence and dignity; or the alien residents, who were born and raised in Saudi Arabia and know no other homeland, yet are treated like newly arrived immigrants. To these one should add... the prisoners who are incarcerated for years without charges being brought against them and without a just trial, as well as the true reformists, who call for [the establishment of] a constitutional monarchy based on [proper] institutions and for freedom and justice. All these [people] will be the fuel of the coming revolution in the Saudi kingdom, unless the authorities make amends and offer radical solutions to their ongoing suffering that grows from day to day, and meet their demands, in which they believe more strongly from day to day.

"The king ignored the suffering of the Shi'ites, who are estimated to constitute 12% of the population, and who live in the oil cities that form the foundation of the Saudi economy. He did [not] end the religious discrimination to which they are subjected by the extremist clerics, or the attacks on their places of prayer, which are being closed down, or the arrests of Shi'ite clerics and human rights activists who demand to stop the discrimination. Nor did he apologize for the suppression of peaceful demonstrations, or release the Shi'ite prisoners who have been imprisoned since 1996 for their alleged involvement in the Khobar terrorist attacks.

"As for women, who constitute over 49% of the population, the king has not issued a single resolution giving them the slightest ray of hope. On the contrary, it was [recently] announced that they would be barred from participating in the municipal elections – a decision that angered a number of prominent writers, such as Halima Muzaffar, who expressed her astonishment over it, and Badriyya Al-Bishr, who described the exclusion of Saudi women from participation in public life as a 'threat to society.' The matter is not confined to women's rights to vote, because Saudi law treats the woman as a minor [in other respects as well]. She may not drive a car or engage in sports, nor may she work, study, or [even] visit a government office without the permission of her guardian. The personal status laws deprive women of their rights in matters of marriage, divorce, and alimony. The problems of pleasure marriages, under-age brides, forced divorce on grounds of unequal social status, and women who are denied [the right] to marry – all these are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what women suffer in this patriarchic society, which associates them with impurity, temptation, and shame. As a matter of fact, the revolution of Saudi women has already begun, [as evident from] the Facebook page titled 'The Saudi Women's Revolution,' which has over 2,000 fans.

"As for the alien residents, the preacher Salman Al-'Odeh has described them as a 'time bomb' because they number no less than 2 million. These are young men and women who were born in Saudi Arabia and have deep roots there, yet are denied the right to citizenship, even though many of them have Saudi mothers and Saudi relatives. Treated like newly arrived immigrants, they are deprived of the right to study, work and receive health care. I am well familiar with their sense of oppression and mental anguish, since I myself was one of them...

Then there are the prisoners [held without trial], who suffer humiliation, degradation and oppression because they do not know what they are accused of and why they are in prison, nor do they know when they will be freed... One day after the Hunain Revolution, their families demonstrated in demand for their release, but the authorities suppressed [the protest], as was reported by the daughter of the 76-year-old [imprisoned] lawyer Suleiman Al-Rashoudi in a letter that was posted on many forums. The sister of another prisoner posted a video on YouTube in which she called on the king to release her brother and to investigate those responsible for the suffering of the [prisoners'] families. A Facebook page titled 'A Prisoner Until When?', campaigning for the prisoners' release, has close to 2,000 supporters, including prominent clerics and writers."

The Sense of Injustice and Persecution are the True Motivations for Revolution that Will Inevitably Come

"[Even] if, for the sake of the argument, we accept the claim made by some that Saudi society does not desire democracy but only material comfort, then it should be recognized that the majority of Saudis do not gain anything from the abovementioned royal decrees... [Moreover,] these royal decrees [certainly] do not satisfy the demands of those three sectors [i.e., the Shi'ites, the women, and the alien residents], or of the prisoners... because these people are deprived of one or more basic rights that affect their lives far more than money. Therefore, they continue to be gripped by a sense of oppression and humiliation...

"The sense of injustice and persecution, along with the desire for a proper livelihood, and [the desire to] secure a better future for the coming generations – these are the true [motivations] of the revolutions that will inevitably come wherever there are people suffering injustice and persecution and demanding reform. Saudi Arabia will not be an exception, because the hidden fear has vanished, and the peoples have realized that they are able to bring about change. Mark my words: the Shi'ites, the women, and the alien residents, as well as other disenfranchised sectors and people who require reform – these will be the fuel of the coming revolution, unless the authorities change their policy against them, and I do not think they will. So a revolution there will be. They [i.e., the authorities] think it is far away, but I see it coming soon."




[1], April 16, 2011

[2] This was the name of a Facebook campaign calling for a "day of rage" in Saudi Arabia on March 11, 2011. Eventually, only some small-scale demonstrations took place, which were dispersed by the authorities. For more on the preparations for the day of rage, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 674, "In Anticipation of the Saudi Day of Rage on Friday March 11, 2011," March 12, 2011, In Anticipation of the Saudi Day of Rage on Friday March 11, 2011.

[3] On February 23, 2011, the Saudi king issued a series of royal decrees aimed at improving living conditions of Saudi citizens. The decrees were aimed at increasing wages for officials in the government, military, and private sectors; fighting unemployment; advancing science, culture, and sports; encouraging investors in government enterprises, and assisting students of in-demand professions abroad. In addition, pardons were granted to political prisoners. (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 24, 2011).

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