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The opposition in Saudi Arabia is calling for democratic and social reforms – but the movement is ignored by the international media and Western governments.

King AbdullahThousands of students at the all-female King Khaled University in Saudi Arabia boycotted classes last week to protest against poor services and demand reform. Following the suppression of the demonstrations, protests have spread to a number of cities in Saudi Arabia. The anger of students spread and gone beyond the city of Abha to larger parts of the Kingdom, where several protests took place in the cities of Riyadh, al-Namas, Ar’ar, Qatif and al-Rabeeah.

Saudi authorities responded to the protests with violence, killing one female student and injuring 54 others.

In Taibah University in the city of Medina, one student was expelled for publicly criticising the deteriorating conditions on campus during an open meeting with the director. In the eastern province of Qatif, one civilian was killed and several injured after security forces clashed with protesters demanding political reform.

The Ministry of Interior released a statement in which it vowed to address 'acts of terrorism' and described the protesters as 'a deluded minority.'

Protests started with the self-immolation of a man in Samtah, Jizan, on 21 January 2011 and demonstrations of a few hundred people in late January in Jeddah and throughout February and early March in the cities of Qatif, al-Awamiyah, Riyadh and Hofuf.

In April 2011, several small protests over labour rights took place in front of government ministry buildings in Riyadh,Ta’if and Tabuk. Protests continued in late March and April in Qatif and smaller cities in the Eastern Province such as al-Awamiyah, and Hofuf, which are majority composed of Saudi Shia citizens who are discriminated by the authorities because of their religion.

The protestors called for the release of prisoners, the withdrawal of the Peninsula Shield Force from Bahrain and equal representation.

Uprisings have continued in the Qatif region. During protests in May, October and November, police shot live ammunition at protestors calling for the Eastern Province to have its own constitution and legislative assembly, and for the Society for Development and Change to be legally registered. The protests continued in December in Riyadh and Buraidah, calling for the release or trial of prisoners.

A call from Saudi intellectuals to the political leadership made on 28 February, titled The Declaration of National Reform, expressed their desire for a constitutional monarchy and equal citizenship. It contended that the people's consent is the basis for the legitimacy of authority and the only guarantee for unity, stability and the efficiency of public administration, as well as the protection of the country from foreign intervention.

They also call for the people to be a source of authority and a full partner in deciding public policies through their elected representatives in the Shura (Consultative) Council. They insist on the principles of an independent judiciary, legislation that forbids discrimination, women’s rights, greater social justice and a redistribution of oil revenues among the population.

Once again Al Jazeera, as well as other western media, are silent before the repression of protesters in Saudi Arabia. Programmes critical towards GCC countries are virtually non-existent on Al Jazeera which gives the Saudi opposition no air time.

Saudi Arabia: the centre of counter revolution?

The Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, has assisted a number of regimes – including in Bahrain – militarily, financially and politically to quash popular protests. The intervention of Saudi forces must be understood as a response to the threat of popular protests inside its own borders.

The GCC led by Saudi Arabia has expressed its solidarity with the Bahraini authorities during the popular protests against the Al Khalifa regime. The GCC decided on 10 March to create a development fund of $20 billion to help Bahrain and Oman – another country beset by protests – with $10 billion going to each country to upgrade their housing and infrastructure over 10 years.

In Yemen, the GCC supports a political transition that keeps the structure of the regime as is it by sacrificing the head of state, Ali Saleh, who is nevertheless given total impunity. The GCC plan transition has been rejected opposition and revolutionary groups.

Saudi Arabia, as well as Qatar, has also financially supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Al Nahda in Tunisia during the past few months. Both parties do not challenge the interests of the Western imperialists, Israel and their allies in the region, while they want to limit the political, social and economic consequences of the revolutions.

Western hypocrisy

The voices of Western governments are once again silent when it comes to protecting their closest allies and their political and economic interests, ignoring violations of human rights and the total absence of democracy. The US is the largest importer of Saudi oil, while the Kingdom is the closest ally of Washington in the region with Israel.

Recently the head of the IMF actually praised 'the important role' played by Saudi Arabia to stabilise the world economy, while in 2008 Nicolas Sarkozy declared that Saudi Arabia was developing a 'civilisation policy'. How can the most reactionary regime in the region be considered as developing a 'civilisation policy'?

Conclusion

Arab Revolutions will spread to all the countries of the region because they suffer to some extent from the same deficiencies: absence of democracy, social justice and true independence. The people of Saudi Arabia are exposing the hypocrisy of the Kingdom which is rhetorically supporting the Syrian revolution, while repressing its own people and declaring that every protest in the Kingdom is a new form of terrorism.

The revolution must spread to GCC countries and especially Saudi Arabia which are the centre of counter revolution in the region. Solidarity is needed with all the uprisings in the region and elsewhere to free the people from dictatorships, neo-liberalism and Imperialism.

Viva the permanent revolution!

Tagged under: Middle East

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