The “New Terrorism”

The situation in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province has been tense for months. At least six people have been killed since November. The government repeatedly said the unrest in Qatif is backed by an unnamed foreign power, widely understood to mean Iran. The government refuses to acknowledge the protests in Qatif. Instead they call them ‘riots.’

“We do have evidence of a relationship with somebody else abroad,” Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki told a news conference last month when he announced that the ministry ordered the arrest of 23 men in Qatif who it said were responsible for unrest.

Some people noted how the government used to make similar announcements during the confrontations with Al Qaeda few years ago. While this announcement was very similar in style and presentation, the government kept referring to the recent unrest as “riots” but stopped short of calling it “terrorism.”

Until today.

The state news agency published a statement by an unnamed source at the Interior Ministry this morning saying “what is being committed by this small minority is new terrorism that the government has the right to confront like it has done before” with Al Qaeda attacks. A reporter for Arab News tweeted that the unnamed source is actually al-Turki.

Saudi MOI. Photo credit: Paul Tupman

This statement comes as a response to a Friday sermon by Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar, the most prominent Shia leader in the country. In his sermon, al-Saffar said he rejects the use of violence by protesters against security forces, but at the same time he condemned the excessive use of force by the police. “Those are citizens, Muslims and humans. Their souls are dear and their lives are precious. The state is responsible for their lives and blood,” he said.

Obviously, the government could not accept this kind of language even coming from a moderate like al-Saffar and felt compelled to send a strong message. Security forces will confront the situation “with determination and force and with an iron first,” the statement said.

Al-Saffar has played in important role in mediating between the government and the Shia community since he returned to the country in the early 1990’s after years in exile. However, it seems that his role has been marginalized as young people decided to take matters into their hands by taking to the street, and also because the government chose to deal with the unrest heavy-handedly.

The Interior Ministry dismissed al-Saffar’s comparison of the situation to what is happening in neighboring countries, where governments are killing their own people. Saudi security forces are simply “acting in self-defense,” the ministry said.

So the ministry is basically saying the killings in Qatif happen when security forces defend themselves against terrorist attacks incited by foreign parties. Haven’t we heard this line before? Help me here: Was it Syria? Or Bahrain?

But the above questions are not important. The important questions are: How can this escalation in rhetoric by the government help to ease the tension? How do they plan to do that without allies like al-Saffar? Will the iron fist option work?

I don’t know the answers, but Toby C. Jones and Madawi al-Rasheed, two academics who wrote extensively about Saudi Arabia, had this interesting exchange earlier today on Twitter:


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Free Ali Abdulemam

Ali Abdulemam

I was shocked to learn that my friend Ali Abdulemam, a leading Bahraini blogger, was arrested yesterday by the Bahraini authorities for allegedly spreading “false news” on BahrainOnline.org portal, one of the most popular pro-democracy outlets in Bahrain. It is not the first time that Ali has been arrested for content published on his portal. I met Ali a couple of times in Beirut, where both of us attended Arab bloggers meetings. He is, in the words of Sami Ben Gharbia, “a pioneer among Arab activists, using the internet to militate for peaceful reform. He inspired many young Bahrainis and Arabs to use the internet to express themselves and engage in spirited debate.”

Please support Ali in any and every way you can: blog, tweet, and follow the updates here.

Mahmood’s Den No More

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This is long overdue, but better late than never…

My friend Mahmood al-Yousif, Bahrain’s blogfather, has decided to quit blogging after 5 years of enriching the Gulf cyberspace with his wisdom and humor. Mahmood’s Den was one of the first blogs in the region and one of the inspirations behind Saudi Jeans. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mahmood for the first time in Manama back in 2005, and then once again in Dhahran last year. I am sad to see him stop and I’m sure I will miss his intelligent witty comments, but now there is nothing I can do but wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

We Like to Party!

My friend Mahmood has just found that Manama is at No. 8 on the list of Top 10 Sin Cities in the world. According to the website, our Bahraini brethren should thank us, the Saudis, for putting their capital on the international sin map:

Manama is a popular spot for Saudis to kick back from their country’s restrictive laws. Here they can get hammered, go clubbing, mingle with the opposite sex, and if they’re really daring, they can pick up prostitutes — a practice that’s illegal but widely available. For many Saudi males this proximity to an open culture is irresistible and many jam the causeway and fill flights to the city every weekend. Do you want to see what happens when Saudis cut loose and leave the rules behind? You may need to get in line.

We rock, don’t we?

Driving While Drunk

You would think that in a country where the consumption of liquor is illegal, drunk driving won’t be a problem to deal with, but Molouk Ba-Isa got some news for you. She, like many who live near King Fahd Causeway, aka the Johnny Walker Bridge, is complaining that they have to deal with impaired drivers every weekend, and it gets much worse during the Eid week every year.

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She goes into the details that I’m not sure if most of you need to know, but here is the money quote: “The problem is a lack of enforcement.” On both sides of the causeway, little is done to prevent the potential dangers of drunk drivers. Sadly, some people don’t know how to celebrate without putting others and themselves in danger.