Daily Israel Report

Saudi Arabia Shuts Down Shi'ite Protests

Saudi Arabia has clamped down on budding wave of protests by Shi'ite Muslims in the Eastern Province, near the oil fields.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 3/6/2011, 10:16 AM / Last Update: 3/6/2011, 10:20 AM

The Saudi Arabian government has clamped down on protests by Shi'ite Muslims.

In an announcement broadcast on Saudi state television, the Interior Ministry prohibited all marches and protests in the kingdom. The statement warned that security forces will use every means necessary to prevent any attempt to cause public disorder.

A ministry spokesman added that the law of the kingdom prohibits any form of protest, demonstration, or strike, including a call for such action, claiming it contravenes Sharia law, as well as Saudi traditions and values.

He accused unnamed parties of trying “to get around the systems” and “achieve illegitimate goals,” according to a report by CNN.

'Days of Rage' in the Saudi Kingdom
The kingdom's Shi'ite Muslim minority, which resides primarily in the Eastern Province near the nation's oil fields, held a “day of rage” demonstration 10 days ago to demand the release of Shi'ite prisoners they feel are being held unjustly.

Three Shi'ite prisoners were freed by the government just prior to the return of King Abdullah after a three-month trip abroad for medical treatment.

Sheikh Tawfiq Al-Amer led that Friday's protest after delivering a sermon in which he called on Saudi Arabia to become a constitutional monarchy. He was arrested the following Sunday, a week ago. In addition, some 40 individuals protested in Riyadh outside the Al-Rajhi Mosque after Friday prayers and one of the organizers was arrested.

Two similar demonstrations were held in the province a day earlier, according to Human Rights First Society president Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb. Although small, both called for the release of Shi'ite prisoners. About 200 demonstrators gathered in the city of Qatif, where at least 22 were arrested, and 100 others protested in Awamiyya.

Official: Protests 'Not Political' But Warns of Limits
Government officials downplayed the significance of the protests in a statement to CNN. “The protests that took place in the Eastern Province were small and were not political in nature,” said an official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak with media. “The protesters weren't calling for regime change. They were asking for more jobs and calling for release of prisoners they feel were imprisoned unjustly.”

Acknowledging the calls for a constitutional monarchy, the official said “Yes, there are groups here asking for more rights, calling for constitutional reforms, and that is their right to do so. King Abdullah has always encouraged a national dialogue and continues to do so.”

But he made it clear that the “right to do so” has limits, warning that in Saudi Arabia, “it's not like other countries – we don't have or allow protests here.” He added that government officials were not worried the protests would lead to upheaval throughout the nation. “We don't feel they will spread throughout the kingdom, or become bigger in nature,” he said.