The Uprising that Slipped Past Your Radar

Published: Monday 4 March 2013


Very early in the morning, the historic sit-in was ended. Police swarmed in and arrested all whom were involved. I had been following it all night, even writing an article about it. This political disturbance is in the place one would least expect it: Saudi Arabia. A sworn ally of the United States, the monarchy rules over the people with an iron fist. Amnesty International in a post calling for the release of female prisoners who had participated in demonstrations wrote that “criticism of the state is generally not tolerated in Saudi Arabia. Those who do criticize the government, their policies or practices are often held incommunicado without charge, sometimes in solitary confinement, and denied access to lawyers or the courts to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Torture or other ill-treatment is frequently used to extract “confessions” from detainees.”

This is not the beginning of disturbances in this country. Already back in January 2011, following the shockwave coming from the “Arab Spring,” one man lit himself on fire, beginning mass demonstrations. As I wrote in a post on the Culture of Resistance tumblr blog, “demands throughout have included changes in political and economic conditions, suffrage for women, giving women the right to drive, the release of all political prisoners, taking the Saudi forces out of Bahrain which are participating in crushing the uprising, equality for Shias in the country along with a Constitution and independent legislature in the country’s Eastern Province.” There have been very few concessions to meet these demands, as most of them are just meant to stop further protest, not eliminate the root causes like giving $130 billion in handouts to citizens and allowing women to participate in municipal elections for 2015. Despite the fact that protest is banned in the country (even though a crackdown on people would violated the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia) people are going out and protesting anyway. In this article I specifically want to focus on the events in Buraydah and elsewhere that have demanded the freeing of all political prisoners just like Anti-Flag sung in Mumia’s Song.

Before I get into the event completely, I think it’s important to show the “open letter from families of detainees” which detailed their demands which meant to stop human rights violations and violations of Islamic principles by the government. These demands as I noted in a post on Culture of Resistance include:

  1. Immediate dismissal of the Interior minister
  2. The creation of a “higher committee for truth” that will look at human rights violations in prison including torture, sexual assault and insult in general
  3. The sacking of the chief of the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution
  4. The canceling of all judgments of secret trials that took place for those that were in prison
  5. Bad feelings and effects of those being imprisoned on the lives of  toward children is why there will still be popular resentment and that there must be the “demise of oppression and tyranny of government,” an institution which must fix its errors 
  6. Allowing in Saudi Arabia “freedom of opinion…expression and assembly in accordance with Shariah”
  7. Calling all judges who have oppressed people with Sharia to be brought to a public trial
  8. Demanding that all detainees in prison and in detention camps be released
  9. Demanding that the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) be eliminated as its mission is “contrary to Islamic law”
  10. Demanding that Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution and the Ministry of the Interior be separated but still is connected to e judiciary.
  11. Calls for separate prisons run by the Ministry of the Interior but related to the Ministry of Justice
  12. Demanding that there are separate political detectives from the Ministry of the Interior who are related to the judiciary
  13. Demanding that those who have looted the budget of the Ministry of Interior be held accountable as basically stole money from people  

These demands would be pushed through a “peaceful process through two methods…peaceful demonstrations…monthly protests…[and] a hunger strike, in places of assembly…or [in] public.” At the end of the letter, they urge the Saudi general public to do the following:

  1. “condemn the policy of the State based on oppression and tyranny and restrictions on reformers”
  2. “denounce the arrogance [of]…the Interior Ministry”
  3. “communicate with media channels and human rights organizations to prosecute those involved in torture and arbitrary detention and…torture…of women”
  4. “seek to lift the injustice [the] legitimate way [and] call [for] the soldiers and officers to refuse orders [to] torture…and prosecute protesters and demonstrators”
  5. call for all segments of society to cooperate together under the banner of “support[ing] your brother right or wrong” through demonstrations and sit-ins and the like in order to demand reform

This shows that the movement is not a “radical movement in the sense of overthrowing systems…[but is a] reform movement…[that] has a radical twinge to it, even if it’s a bit reformist.” It is my hope that this movement could become stronger and build enough so those at the bottom can have their voices heard.

From here it is best to show the timeline of events of the sit-in and other protests around the city of Buraydah (and others) that have occurred since 5:56 PM on February 25th (Saudi Arabia is eight hours behind the United States) thanks to the twitter hashtag #Buraydah_Sit_in. The story is as follows:

·      5:56 AM: US-educated Ahmad Jibril writes that he will update live coverage of the sit-in.

·      6:01 AM: A women raises a banner saying she isn’t afraid to be arrested

·      6:06 AM: Women and children are surrounded by security officers

·      6:07 AM: Women are marching down the street with a banner

·      6:22 AM: Ahmad Jibril writes that “sisters sending live pictures” of the sit-in

·      6:33 AM:  An article showing women camped out at a city corner is shown

·      6:35 AM: More women come and join the protest.

·      6:38 AM: The people of the city help and give food to those participating in the sit-in

·      6:39 AM: Its reported that Saudi Intelligence Agents are spread throughout the area to deprive those sitting in of resources

·      6:51 AM: Two men are arrested trying to bring supplies to those who are protesting

·      7:00 AM: A twitter user urges people to not forget those who are in prison

·      7:11 AM: The same twitter user as the one at 7:00 AM as before tweets that it is unfair to have husbands of those in the sit-in in prison as the sit-in continues.

·      7:14 AM: One user says they will continue peaceful means of protest until they (the government) force them to go further

·      7:38 AM: Ahmad Jibril writes that protesters are asking for “legitimate rights”

·      7:46 AM: Khilafat Post writes that the “Women of the #Buraydah_Sit_in have made history.”

·      7:51 AM: A picture of a fire burning at the site of the sit-in the night before is shown by one twitter user

·      7:52 AM: One twitter user thinks the implications of this action will affect the world and possibly oil prices 

·      7:58 AM: Ahmad Jibril writes that it is “#Saudi #Islam when women are encouraged &permitted in parliament yet prohibited from a protest requesting basic rights,” showing the irony at play

·      8:00 AM: Women are currently protesting on a street corner

·      8:19 AM: A twitter user comments that “it's cold and these people should answer to their legitimate requests so things will not get out of hand”

·      8:25 AM: Another user says that those participating in this protest are an example to follow

·      8:39 AM: One twitter user writes that “your demands are our demands. Your cries are our cries. Your pain is our pains.”

·      8:42 AM: A picture of a little kid holding a sign to the ground is published to twitter

·      9:33 AM:  A little kid confronts a young man, a soldier with a camera in what looks like a parking lot

·      9:43 AM: It is reported on twitter that undercover cops surrounded protesting women

·      10:24 AM: A twitter account remarks that “Sisters, you have…started a revolution! From this action of yours, much good will come”

·      10:32 AM: The Gulf Affairs account writes that women participating in this sit-in have made history including “burning the picture of the tyrant Nayef & Anti Nayef banners”

·      10:34 AM: One of the participating women tweets that they are still protesting and waiting for their demands to be met

·      10:35 AM: The people of the city provide food to those participating in the sit-in and it is reported that Saudi intelligence agents prevent people from using supplies from a local imam while also preventing them from contacting their relatives

·      11:00 AM: A person takes a video of the protest from a car window  

·      11:03 AM: Protesters begin to burn a picture of the interior minister is put up on youtube

·      11:08 AM: A person takes a picture of protesters on the curb of the road

·      11:15 AM: Soldiers and security officers gather nearby the protest

·      11:31 AM: A twitter user comments that this is the 22nd hour of the sit-in which must include sleeping there the night before

·      11:53 AM: From across the street a person takes a video of protest and puts it up on youtube

·      12:01 PM: Two youths who brought food to those participating in the sit-in are arrested

·      12:20 PM: A twitter user writes in solidarity that “Sisters in Islam , the Ummah is One - we share your pain - we demand Justice”

·      12:41 PM: Twitter user writes that#Buraydah_Sit_in sisters tired, not slept since yday & kids are upset..not allowed to use bathrooms in vicinity. May Allah provide a way4dem”

·      1:10 PM: It is reported that while people at the sit-in are having lunch, police and detectives attack them

·      1:13 PM: Once again, a twitter user asserts that they are peaceful and have stayed that way, yet they have been attacked by state security forces

·      1:20 PM: A picture of younger kids and others at the protest is put on twitter

·      1:23 PM: A picture calling for the “escalation of the protests” and demonstrations in Saudi Arabian cities is published in a long picture on twitter [original link]

·      1:36 PM: A man who wants to bring ice cream to protesting children is arrested

·      1:48 PM: A twitter user writes that those at the current location have been protesting there for 24 hours

·      1:51 PM: A post calling for people outside the city to participate is posted to twitter (translated version)

·      1:55 PM: Another post calling for people outside the city to participate is again posted on twitter (translated version)

·      2:03 PM: Women march down  the middle of a road with signs about political prisoners

·      2:23 PM: A twitter user writes that “even young kids stand firm with their mothers until their fathers imprisoned unjustly are released”

·      2:24 PM: It is reported that fifty people are participating in the protest/sit-in

·      2:41 PM: A twitter user remarks that “Our sisters are sending a very powerful message to the Ummah. If the men wont stand up against oppression we will”

·      2:50 PM: One person on twitter says those protesting will go down as heroes

·      3:05 PM: A picture is taken of a kid standing with a sign calling for his dad to be released  

·      3:18 PM: A twitter user notes that “Never has a demonstration been held this long by women&kids in Saudi [Arabia]”

·      3:34 PM: Quoting Gandhi, a twitter user noted that peaceful action leads to results (translated version

·      4:11 PM: Explaining the difference between the protesters and the government forces, a twitter user notes that they (the protesters( use Allah while the government just uses force

·      4:46 PM:  A twitter user postulates that this will be the second night sleeping on the street for those protesting 

·      4:49 PM: Another person on twitter remarks that sixty people are part of the demonstration, and they are cold and hungry 

·      5:13 PM: A twitter user says that people can be courageous and do what the protesters are doing elsewhere

·      5:18 PM: Women stay by a street corner and continue to protest into the night 

·      5:31 PM: One person remarks that the downfall of Saudi Arabia is near (hmmmm…)

·      5:38 PM: A twitter user says that those protesting have used their voice and didn’t sit back and let themselves be oppressed

·      6:17 PM: A twitter user declares that “60 women and children still in The sit-in for the second day and their demands are not met #Saudi #Buraydah

·      6:34 PM: A twitter user remarks with shock: “Everytime i remember our sisters are supposedly in an Islamic state i get sick to my stomach. What kind of Islam is this?”

·      7:02 PM: Saudi police and other military forces begin surrounding those who are sitting in

·      7:22 PM: More food is dropped off at the sight for the protesters

·      7:23 PM: At least by this time if not earlier, there is a peaceful march in Riyadh in solidarity with the one in Buraydah (this is later put in a youtube video)

·      7:32 PM: If not the case earlier, it seems evidently clear that those protesting are being surrounded bit by bit

·      7:44 PM: In the midst of the confusion more people join the protest 

·      7:59 PM: Police reportedly begin asking protesters “stupid questions” and are mocked by them

·      8:16 PM: A twitter user says that the government is being heartless

·      8:21 PM: Tents are erected in the second night of the sit-in (echoes of occupy)

·      8:24 PM: People possibly related to the protest (maybe the same people in the sit-in, it’s hard to tell) begin marching down the street of Buraydah and shouting slogans

·      8:34 PM: As of this time, a twitter user reports that “52 women and 12 children present now #Buraydah_Sit_In [and] their demand is one: They will not leave until last prisoner walks free”

·      8:40 PM: At this time tents are set up and women are sleeping on the ground, preparing for the cold night  

·      8:53-8:55 PM: A twitter user writes that they are arresting people at the protest and forcing them onto buses. At 9:12, a twitter account writes that “All women protesters arrested in buraydah and login forced in bus under threat of beatings with sticks” At 9:16 and 9:18, pictures of police arresting the protesters are posted on twitter (part 1 and part2). At 9:59, a twitter users says that women were severely oppressed by being arrested

A while back I remember watching a documentary (Gashole) where the people kept saying that if the monarchy of Saudi Arabia were toppled that would be “economic terrorism.” Honestly I find that ridiculous and if someone were to use that to delegitimize these protests, then it would need to be said it is more important for people to get justice than let oil prices remain the same. This protest, the peaceful Buraydah uprising which lasted many hours was arguably the first occupation in Saudi Arabian history may have not been a success in achieving its goals, but likely it will spur future actions. Already, at 10:03 PM on February 26th, a twitter account advocating for sit-ins noted the following: “Everyone wants to help…in support of…Buraidah sit_in…[and] individuals who cannot find a sufficient number out in a small demonstration…[should] type a message in a large font or print out to the street photo paper and background be a milestone in your city like a large mosque…[and] just send the image to the tag #Buraidah_sit_in…this peaceful action will open the door to popular demands diverse unemployment - the elected Shura Council - the people want reform of the system and so on…The second method is to find the same chivalry and gallantry…[protesting during] Maghrib prayers at [specific] mosques…Departure After praying quietly…[and no]chanting [of] slogans…we wish…that People come to sit and leave quietly and spread news and pictures…If you have a number and trust the 50 men or more…in a quick demonstration…and [send pictures]…to the organizers of the sit-ins in Twitter…[and] finally, everyone must act in favor of the sisters in the city of Buraidah seriously and seek to resolve the issue of political prisoners and put the problems of the people are all on the table because the government tolerated injustice has serious consequences threaten our future and not poverty, unemployment and corruption us so long ago.”

In having some discussions on twitter with one person associated with movement, it seems that it doesn’t like the absolute monarchy so much meaning it might have a radical aspect to it. In the end, I hope the growing of this movement continues and allows the people of Saudi Arabia to unite against those who are oppressing them. 

ABOUT Burkely Hermann
Burkely Hermann is a writer, activist, and researcher who tries to challenge perceptions about the world we all live in and pushing for the creation of discussion spaces to talk about pertinent issues. In doing this, Burkely has not only written articles but also used his tech savvy skills to aggressively fight for an internet that serves the masses.
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