First Saudi Day of Rage flops, protesters to try again Friday
As Libyan protests morphed into bloody civil war, Saud protesters tried to grab limelight of Middle East by bringing forward its Day of Rage demos by four days to Monday, March 7. However, the organizers failed to get the numbers out on the streets.. debkafile's sources report exclusively that they had planned to start the demonstrations against the Saudi throne in Taif, Medina and Jeddah in the west, the towns of Assir and Najran in the south, which are traditional anti-monarchical centers and locales of the Ismaili communities close to the Shia brand of Islam, and the capital Riyadh.
This was to have build up to a powerful climax in Riyadh and across the kingdom Friday, according to the scenario most feared by the Saudi throne: a mainstream-Shiite protest merger.
This week, the Saudi Interior Ministry banned all demonstrations, backed Sunday by the Council of Senior Clerics which declared demonstrations violated Islamic law and signing reform petitions "violates what God ordered."
In rescheduling the protests, the organizers had two main goals:
1. To start a slow-burning fire on the western and southern fringes of the desert kingdom, ready in four days to burst into flames in Riyadh and rouse the masses exiting the mosques after Friday prayers into forming anti-government street processions.
2. To make the coming Riyadh demonstration strong enough to pull in the rest of the kingdom including the Shiites of the oil-producing Eastern Provinces, thereby realizing the royal house's most feared bugbear, collaboration between the mainstream opposition and the Shiites.
Last Tuesday, March 1, the BBC Arabic broadcast reported that the unrest in Saudi Arabia was growing. debkafile's sources in the Gulf say that immediately following the broadcast, Saudi security and intelligence forces raised their alert to the highest level. The reason: The Saudis perceived the broadcast as a coded call to Shiites and other opposition elements to launch riots for deposing 88-year-old King Abdullah. Panic selling up to 6.8 percent of stocks resulted on the Saudi exchange. One major trader explained that the unrest in the Arab world had led investors to shift from stocks to cash.
After the BBC broadcast, the authorities took the precaution of partially shutting down the relevant Web sites to cut down participation in the demonstrations.
Saudi Arabia has 2,300,000 registered Facebook users; Bahrain, about 220,000 and Oman 160,000.
These are impressive numbers which encompass large youthful populations, especially in Saudi Arabia, among whom unemployment runs at 30-40 percent. Still, it's hard to treat these figures as a barometer for forecasting the degree of willingness to rise up and challenge the government in Riyadh.
In Saudi Arabia, especially, family-clan-tribal ties are strong and may be capable of restraining youngsters exposed to Facebook from responding actively to calls to go out on the streets, although their demands and grievances are already serving the politicians with fodder.
Saudi Arabia has three categories of politicians: liberal elements; Muslim clerics in ideological opposition to the religious establishment and government; and the Shiite minority.
Their common cause is a demand for an end to the royal family's monopoly over policy-making – i.e., a limited process toward a constitutional monarchy and a share in power for ordinary citizens.
The disturbances in Bahrain began igniting the two million Saudi Shiites of the oil-rich Eastern provinces last month: On Feb. 17, Shiites staged their first protest demonstration in the Atif region calling for the release of Shiites held without trial since 2009. A number were released three days later.
Feb. 24, saw the second Shiite demonstration in Awwamiya, a small town near Qatif; and on Feb 28, the third was held, in solidarity with the Shiites of Bahrain in the main cities of the Qatif area, including the main city of Hasha.
The latter two rallies were restrained and small, in response to the authorities' pressure on Shiite leaders to hold down the first outward manifestations of a high level of ferment in the community.
Signs of ferment surfaced in other parts of Saudi Arabia too as liberal and religious opposition figures composed their demands in readiness of the Day of Anger.
On Feb. 26, a group calling itself Jeddah Youth for Change handed out flyers to passersby in the Red Sea port city calling on them to participate in the Day of Anger demonstrations.
Prominent Saudi expats in London also took a hand.
Articles supporting the dissidents' demand for political reforms were published by two Saudi historians, Madawi al-Rasheed, a Kings College professor and scion of the Rasheed family that ruled the Najd region of Saudi Arabia prior to the Ibn Saud conquests; and May al-Yamani, daughter of the former oil minister, Mohammed Zaki al-Yamani.
The unusual level of anti-monarchical activism in the West convinced the Saudi royal family that an outside move against the throne in Riyadh is afoot, akin to the maneuver that terminated the Hosni Mubarak's presidency in Egypt and which is currently directed against Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi.