Saudi University Students Continue to Protest

Following last Wednesday’s female students protest at King Khaled University (KKU) in Abha, students on the male campus held a protest on Saturday. They demanded the resignation of Abdullah al-Rashed, president of KKU.

Wael Abdullah, a medical student at the university, uploaded this video early on Saturday showing the heavy security presence on campus in anticipation of the protest.

Yesterday, Asir Governor Prince Faisal bin Khaled warned that protests will not be tolerated. But despite the warning and the security presence, students gathered this morning and began chanting slogans calling for the university president’s resignation, as videos uploaded to YouTube show:




Another video shows students singing the Saudi national anthem during the protest:

The protest ended peacefully after Assir deputy governor spoke to the students using a loud speaker, promising that the governor will meet with 20 students to listen to their demands. This video reportedly shows the deputy governor addressing the student protesters:


Local daily al-Jazirah cited an unnamed official source at the university who said a number of officials will be fired in the next few hours. There have been unconfirmed reports about arrests of some students, but the general feeling among them after the protest seemed positive as seen on Twitter.


Translation: Back home after these honorable events. Tomorrow, I will be one of the 20 students to represent the university for meeting with the Prince.

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Saudi Female University Students Protest in Abha

At least 53 female students from the college of arts at King Khaled University in Abha, southern Saudi Arabia, were injured in a protest today, local daily al-Watan reported. Other sources said one student died in the hospital of a status epilepticus condition that she suffered during the protest, after the university security guards attempted to force the students to disperse.

The students were calling for the improvement of the learning environment after local news sites published photos of trash piles in the campus.

This video shows the students in their black abayas screaming:

Weal Abdullah, a medical student at the university, said his sister was among the protesters, and she told him that security guards used clubs to beat the female students.



UPDATE 21:25: Wael Abdullah posted more details on his blog:

On Wednesday Morning , My sister says that they were banned from bringing in or buying any water bottles or Any other refreshment; the dean instructions they said to punish them for throwing it at the guards. Around 10:45 AM the Guards grabbed one of the girls accusing her of hitting the guards and breaking the law, they were pulling her hair and dragging here on the stairs in the most humiliating way screaming and crying for help. Her friends, my sister included, rushed to help and pushed the guards away. This incidence triggered the demonstrations in the whole campus which was already sick of the corruption and ill-treatment of the dean and heads of departments . The girls were calling for an end to the university president Abdullah Alrashid’s era and held him responsible for all the ongoing corruption and deterioration for 13 years now.

The students were protesting for the second day when violence broke out. A local news site published photos of the students on campus during the protest. Photos also showed security forces and religious police patrols outside the school building.

Prince Faisal bin Khaled, governor of Assir province, has ordered a probe in the events at the university.

In a statement released by the media center of King Khaled University, the school administration said the students gathered and acted in ways that violate the rules then escalated to attack security guards, staff and the faculty. “The university will investigate the causes that led to this and address them according to the common good,” the statement said.

On Twitter and BlackBerry’s BBM, messages have been exchanged calling the students, male and female, to hold a demonstration on Saturday calling on the university president to resign.

“Personally, I think that If the government didn’t act and act fast, they could risk losing control over the whole situation;” Wael Abdullah wrote. “I know that We’re all used to be let down by our own country when it comes to rights and freedoms but lets just hope that it won’t this time.”

Ready to be disappointed?

I had an interesting, albeit infuriating, conversation with a conservative friend of mine last week (yes, I do have conservative friends, can you believe that?). My friend said Saudis should not respond to the calls to protest posted on Facebook because if they do they would be ungrateful to their country. I was gobsmacked. “Huh?! What do you mean?” I asked.

“Our government has given us everything,” he said. “In the past, our nation was a made up of poor tribes fighting each other over food and water. Look at us now. Look at our cities, our universities, our hospitals. Our country is the homeland of Islam. You should thank your lucky stars you where born here. Those who call for change are evil, because they want to waste all these great things that we enjoyed for so long. They want to replace safety and stability with mayhem and chaos, and we must not let them achieve that.”

After he finished that monologue, I ended the conversation. There was no point in debating with him after he labeled all those who might have a different opinion as disloyal, ungrateful brats. Few days later, I wished that I did not end the conversation on that note. I wished I told him this:

Thanks to the vast oil wealth, our country had made some quick developments. But to put it the way you did is wrong and patronizing. We are not subjects; we are citizens. And when the government does what it should be doing (like building schools and hospitals), it is by no means doing us a favor, because this is their job and duty. And it is our right as citizens of a country that enjoys great resources to get a good education, proper health care, and high living standards. More importantly, it is our right to live in dignity, be free to speak our minds, and have a say in how our country is run.

When the so-called Friday of Rage finally came around, very little rage was actually seen on the street. Except for a man named Khaled, the streets remained awfully quiet thanks to the heavy presence of security forces. One picture from Olaya St. showed chains of police cars, bumper to bumper, on both sides of the street. What happened, or rather what did not happen, on Friday has shown that contrary to what some people said, the fear barrier has not been broken yet. But it has also shown how nervous the government was.

The very audible sigh of relief released by the government in the day after reveals that the government did not get the message of Friday. Or maybe that they chose to ignore the message. Who knows?

While we wait for the imminent cabinet reshuffle, the news came out that the next cycle of municipal elections will be held in September. I saw conflicting reports over the participation of women, though. Some reports said women will be allowed to vote but not allowed to run. Other reports said women will not be allowed to take part at all due to “social reasons.” Considering that the old councils have been useless, and that the elections have been delayed several times before, I wonder if the public really cares about this anymore.

Interestingly, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) came out with a statement on Tuesday calling for reforms and urging the government to expand public participation. The language of the statement is much, much weaker than what we have read in other reform petitions released in the past weeks. While the previous petitions call for a constitutional monarchy and a fully elected parliament, NSHR merely calls on the government to “look into electing some members of provincial councils and the Shoura Council.” NSHR is said to be close to the government.

Some observers suggested that the statement reflects the thinking of the government and what they are willing to offer at this point. Such offer will probably fall short of what many people want. If the government is serious about reform, the least they can offer now is a fully elected Shoura Council with some teeth. Anything less than that will be a disappointment, and I don’t think that most people are ready for more disappointments. We had quite a few of those in recent months.

My op-ed in the Guardian

I wrote an op-ed for the Guardian today that was published as part of their coverage of the Middle East unrest. You can read it here. They misspelled my first name, though. They used an a in the middle instead of e, which is a common mistake. I asked them to correct it, but I have not heard back from them.

Protests near Ground Zero

Today marks the ninth anniversary of 9/11. The day witnessed heated demonstrations — against and for the proposed Islamic community center — two blocks away from ground zero. I was there this afternoon with a friend of mine, and took some pictures.

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Taking to Streets in Saudi Arabia

On the 19th of December, a few hundred people demonstrated in Qatif, a predominantly Shiite area east of Saudi Arabia, to protest the Israeli siege on Gaza. The protesters lifted posters of Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasarallah and chanted anti-Israeli and anti-US slogans. According to the website Rasid, the demonstration ended peacefully under the eyes of security forces who watched closely. However, tens of young men who demonstrated were arrested in the following week.

After Israel started their barbarian attack on Gaza last Saturday, thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and other countries. In Saudi Arabia, where the law does not give people the right to demonstrate publicly, more than 60 political and human rights activists signed a letter to the Ministry of Interior asking for permission to hold a peaceful demonstration in Riyadh.

While activists in Riyadh were waiting for a reply from MOI, protesters in Qatif demonstrated again on Monday, but this time they were faced by the security forces and riot police who fired rubber bullets to break up the protest. Mansour al-Turki, spokesman of MOI, denied that such protest took place. “Street protests are banned in the Kingdom and that the security forces will intervene to enforce the ban,” he added. His denial is not surprising, but everyone knows that people of Qatif have a long history in street protests with major demonstrations held in 1979, 2002 and 2006.

Four activists who signed the letter were summoned to meet a senior official at MOI today who also said the country’s regulations do not allow such activities. The activists said nothing in the local laws bans street protests but they signed a pledge that they will not hold the demonstration which was planned to take place tomorrow in Nahda Street. Another activist who did not sign the letter said he does not need a permission from anyone to protest. Khalid al-Umair said that he and other activists will be there tomorrow “because we are simply exercising our natural right in expressing our opinion peacefully.”

This was the first time for a group of activists to ask for such permission, and it was expected that MOI would not give a positive response. Although the request was denied, it seemed to encourage more people to take similar steps. More than 200 students at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah sent a letter today to the rector asking for permission to hold a demonstration but he refused saying the university is not the right place to protest.

People should be allowed to protest, but it seems that the government is afraid that people will realize the power of public demonstration and later use it not just to protest against Israel but also to demand their rights. Giving permission to these demonstrations would set a precedent that the government clearly doesn’t want to deal with its results and consequences. 2009 will be interesting.

UPDATE: Khalid al-Umair and Mohammed Abdullah al-Otaibi have been arrested Thursday noon.

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Making the Case for the Hunger Strike

When I posted about the hunger strike last week, I did not expect that anyone would try to talk me out of it. But some people actually did. Some think it is not a worthy cause; some think it is pointless and would have no effect; and some told me they have been intimidated by what they described as “aggressive campaigning” online. To those I say: forget the hoopla; forget the banners; and forget all the coverage.

You think I’m doing this to get media attention? I don’t need media attention. I already have the media attention. I see the hunger strike as my little personal gesture to the detainees. I don’t know what it would mean to them or if they even know about it, but it certainly means something to me. It means that I do not accept injustice. It means that as much as I’m proud of this country, I’m disappointed by how it repeatedly fails to live up to its highest standards. It means that I believe we are better than this and we deserve better than this.

“What about 75 Saudis detained in Guantánamo Bay? They don’t deserve to be supported?” one of the hunger strike opponents asked. I never said they don’t. Nobody did. And if their lawyers and families started a campaign tomorrow I would not hesitate to join and support them. However, I believe that our government is responsible before us more than any other government. We frequently criticize the US for their double standards and failing to respect the principles they preach. That’s fair. But charity begins at home, and it is our moral obligation to our nation that we remind it with the great ideals that it stands for.

If you think this hunger strike will achieve nothing and therefor don’t want to participate that’s okay, but please don’t try to make of it what it is simply not. If you decided to participate, then think why you are doing it; don’t just follow the crowd blindly, and be sure that you can make the case for this. It will be more meaningful and far more rewarding.

Related links: