Friday, February 22, 2013

Risky Business in The Kingdom

Saudi Women and Children Protesters Arrested

On the 9th of February of 2013 two separate groups of over a dozen women and several children were arrested in the cities of Riyadh and Buraida for protesting publicly. The women and children were the relatives of prisoners who they claimed were being detained without trial or who remained in jail after their sentences had been served. The main focus of these protests is to plead with the government to bring those behind bars to court or to release them. It is ironic that the protests in Riyadh took place in front of the offices of Saudi Arabia’s state-founded National Society for Human Rights. Further protest by relatives of the arrested women and children followed shortly after.

Not only are protests banned in the Kingdom but criticism of the state is not tolerated and violators can be held without access to a lawyer or an appearance in court. However, since 2011 protests have increased as the number of Saudis detained without trial increases. At this point the demands of the protesters are very basic but the continued government crackdown could motivate others to act out against the monarchy.

The Saudi government claims that according to Sharia law (legal code based on Islam) protests are forbidden. In recent years there has been a growing debate denying that Sharia law forbids protests and public demonstrations, resulting in several arrests. The sentiment is obviously spreading throughout the country, with protesters willing to risk arrest and physical harm for their voice to be heard. One concession the government is willing to make currently is to limit the powers of the religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Vice. The religious police will still be allowed to ban women from certain activities like driving and force businesses to close five times a day for prayer, but can no longer arrest or press charges.

Moves toward a more moderate government may be a sign that it is obvious that some small changes need to be made now in order to avoid big problems in the future. The threat of an organized opposition movement is real. Much of this story was learned through videos posted on the internet and interviews with the protesters themselves. When the women were interrogated they had DNA samples and fingerprints taken, and were “asked who we are, about our leader, how we co-ordinate our activities, if we have Twitter accounts.” (Livewire) But by being an established monarchy, a certain legitimacy of power remains as long as the royal family does not alienate the general population.

The increased use of technology and the ability to organize have created a tiny threat to Saudi Arabia’s royal family. Women are participating in protests in a country where they are prohibited which shows that people in Saudi Arabia are beginning to find motivation to act. If the government of Saudi Arabia decides to risk continued alienation of the population an opposition movement could catch them off guard.


Amnesty International Public Statement: "Saudi Arabia: Release women protesters"

Saudi Arabia Country Profile

Activists: Saudi women arrested at detention protests

The price of protest in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's Religious Police

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing! Your post reminded me of an article I read the other day which addressed a similar subject. Apparently King Abdullah has appointed 30 women to the Shura Council (of the 150 seats). Human rights organizations call this a huge "step forward" for the women's rights movement in Saudi Arabia.

    You all mentioned the debate surrounding Sharia law. Although I have said it before, I feel that it is really important to understanding the dynamics of politics and Islam in the Middle East. Sharia law is still very much open to interpretation. For example, a country may choose to implement Sharia law in family court proceedings (concerning matters of divorce, child custody, marriage, etc.) without implementing it throughout the rest of the society. This debate, as you suggested, is ongoing in the Middle East, raising questions such as: are democracy and Sharia law (at various levels) compatible?

    Anyway, I find both topics interesting. For more information on King Abdullah's new appointees to the Shura Council, check out this link below: