Saudi protesters stage fresh rallies

March 17, 2011 - 0:0

Protesters have staged rallies in two villages near Qatif in the oil-rich eastern province of Saudi Arabia, renewing demands for the release of prisoners and the withdrawal of Saudi forces in Bahrain in spite of requests from senior Shia clerics to halt protests.

About 400 people marched in al-Rabiya after Friday prayers, while 600 took to the streets of al-Awwamiya after mid-afternoon prayers carrying Saudi and Bahraini flags, residents told the Financial Times.
The marches lasted for about one hour and the protesters demanded the release of nine prisoners held without trial since 1996 for their alleged role in the bombing of a U.S. army complex in al-Khobar, an end to discrimination against the Shia minority and the withdrawal of Saudi troops from Bahrain, said Foad Ali, a resident of al-Awwamiya.
“They didn’t chant any anti-government slogans, or demand any change in the government administration,” he said. “They agreed to peacefully march every Friday until their requests are met.”
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and a key U.S. ally, has avoided the type of protests that swept across the Arab world and toppled the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents, although the push for political change has spread to neighboring countries including Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan and Syria.
This month, Saudi troops, along with forces from other Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf, arrived in Bahrain to help quell month-long protests led by Bahrain’s Shia majority against the Sunni ruling family. The move raised concern that this could antagonize the Saudi Shia minority which has familial and cultural ties to Bahrain’s Shia.
Saudi Shias, who represent about 10 percent of the population, often complain about discrimination, including their exclusion from top ministerial or military posts. They say the Sunni majority questions their loyalty to the Saudi state and is suspicious of their religious affiliation with Shia-majority Iran, something that they deny.
Shia and Sunni activists jointly signed petitions last month asking King Abdullah for reforms that included a constitutional monarchy. Protests are banned in Saudi Arabia, but small rallies in the eastern province have been taking place for the past eight weeks.
At least 80 Shia clerics urged protesters this week to start a dialogue with the government, but activists complained that a lack of tangible progress frustrates the younger population.
“My generation respects and obeys the senior clerics,” said Mohamed al-Saeed, a 36-year old writer from Qatif. “But many of the youth say that there is no point to dialogue and they just organize quick rallies through Facebook or Twitter. They are very difficult to control even when the senior leaders try.”
(Source: Financial Times)