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2 Saudi Protesters Killed, 9 Injured in Qatif, Riyadh Blogger Firas Buqna Released

November 26, 2011

A tank tries to run over protesters in Saudi Arabia

France 24, 25/11/2011 / SAUDI ARABIA

Amateur footage shows a tank deliberately trying to hit protesters in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Qatif on Wednesday. Our Observer told us that this kind of violence is unprecedented in Saudi Arabia. Similar incidents have, however, recently taken place in Bahrain and Egypt.

The demonstrators had gathered in the city centre for the funerals of two people killed during rallies last week. Security forces cracked down on protesters once again; two people were killed and nine injured. In a statement, the Interior Ministry said “these losses took place during an exchange of gunfire with unidentified criminals who infiltrated the population and opened fire from residential areas.” According to the Interior Ministry, two of the injured were policemen.


An armoured vehicle tries to hit protesters following the funeral of two protesters on Wednesday in Qatif.

Since March, residents of Qatif, which is a majority Shiite city, have held frequent anti-government demonstrations. Shiites represent just 10 percent of the total population, and are considered to be heretics by the country’s Sunni leaders. They are marginalised at every level: religious, political and social.

"Snipers were stationed in the big water tower that can be seen in the background of the video"

Moktar B. (not his real name) is one of our Observers in Qatif. I have been in Qatif since the start of the demonstrations and have taken part in most of them. What I can say is it’s unusual for security forces to use such violence as they did on Wednesday. As people left the cemetery after the two protesters’ funeral, a group of people started shouting anti-government slogans.

Very quickly, the police moved in, as you can see in the images. According to my sources, the two people who died were shot at by snipers stationed in the big water tower that can be seen in the background of the video. Then a tank arrived and began to try to mow people down. Most people ran out of the way, but in the last three seconds, you can see the tank hit a man. [Editor’s Note: It is not clear from the video whether the tank actually hit a person or an object].

Authorities said the two people that died on Wednesday were killed in an exchange of fire between criminals, but I don’t believe that. I know people who went to protest – they are young, mostly between 20 and 30 years old. They are unemployed and feel marginalized by the authorities. I tried to find out who the leader of the movement was, but there is none. Since the beginning of the unrest, I haven’t seen any armed protesters.

All people are asking for is that their rights be respected. Since the start of the unrest in March, protesters have demanded that political prisoners be freed. They have been imprisoned without trial and for no reason, some for as long as 15 years. Since the start of the protests, checkpoints have been set up throughout the city.

There are tanks, jeeps and soldiers with automatic guns. Residents do not understand why their movements are being limited in this way. The police are arresting a lot of young people, in particular. Young people spend hours at police checkpoints before they can enter or leave the city. Of course, this only fires up the youth even more.”

During the funeral procession for two protesters killed on Wednesday, people chanted slogans against the Saudi royal family.


07/11/2011 / SAUDI ARABIA

Censored! There are no poor people in Saudi Arabia

Two young Saudi bloggers were sent to jail for fifteen days after uploading a ten-minute documentary on poverty in Riyadh, the capital of one of the richest petro-states in the Gulf.

Firas Buqna and Hussam Al-Darwish posted the video on YouTube on October 10. The fifth episode of their Web TV show “Mal’oub Alen” (“we’re being duped” in Arabic) touched on the living conditions of people in the poor neighbourhood of Al Jaradiya, on the outskirts of Riyadh.

In the report, Buqna is shocked by the relative poverty of the neighbourhood, where he comes across children “who are barefoot and don’t own any shoes.” Of the three neighbourhood residents that Buqna interviews, one “earns only 1,300 dollars (945 euros) to support his two wives and 11 children. Another resident supports 20 people with just 666 dollars (484 euros) a month. Buqna and Al-Darwish denounce the stereotype of the wealthy, SUV-driving Saudi, explaining that 89% of the country’s citizens live in debt. The bloggers question why residents of such a wealthy country are slipping through the net and living in poverty. They point out that over the past 27 years Saudi Arabia has donated 56 billion euros to developing countries, while 22% the the country's own citizens were reportedly living in relative poverty in 2009 (local media put the number at 30% in 2008). The young bloggers’ video did not go down well with authorities. Six days after they posted the video online, Buqna and Al-Darwish were arrested and interrogated by the police. They were released two weeks later, on October 31. The exact reasons behind their arrest remain unclear. However, the controversy generated by their arrest has drawn over a million viewers to their online video. Contributors

Rachid M.

“Poverty is an open secret in Saudi Arabia”

Rachid M. (not his real name) is a blogger; he lives in eastern Saudi Arabia. There are more and more poor people in Saudi Arabia, and the middle class has all but disappeared. It’s an open secret in the kingdom.

I don’t live in Riyadh and have never visited the neighbourhood of Al Jaradiya, but in the east of the country where I live, there are far poorer neighbourhoods than what Firas Buqna showed in his video.

The fact that there are a lot of oil wells in the area changes nothing. Comparing the poorest areas of Saudi Arabia with Somalia, as Buqna does at the beginning of his documentary, makes sense.

There are people who live in terrible conditions, on the streets or under makeshift tents. Poverty was officially recognised for the first time during a visit by Ali Al-Namia, the former minister of social affairs, in the neighbourhood of Al Shamishi in Riyadh in November 2002. He went with King Abdullah, who was still crown prince at the time. The footage was aired on state television.

At the time, authorities decided to create a national solidarity fund. But that wasn’t enough to stop poverty from spreading. Wealth is very badly distributed in our country, and corruption is also rife [in 2010, Saudi Arabia ranked 50th in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index list]. Official media outlets have addressed the problem in a very superficial way.

They present poverty as if it affected only an isolated few and not entire swaths of the population, in one of the richest oil nations of the world. Poor families do get government aid, but they receive symbolic amounts which absolutely don’t allow these people to meet all their needs.

Not to mention the maze of bureaucratic red tape they have to go through to receive this aid. What’s more, this aid is granted only to people who have no other source of income. Low-income working families aren’t entitled to it. “We think they were arrested because they caricatured a commonly-used phrase that honours the King” There are several reasons for which the two bloggers may have been arrested.

According to another famous blogger, nicknamed Saudi Jeans, authorities may not have liked the fact that their video was picked up by a foreign-based opposition TV network. Others think authorities were angered by the videos’ direct, defiant tone. But most people think that what got them into trouble was the fact that they caricatured a commonly-used phrase that honours the King (‘We are fine, we hope you are too’ in Arabic).

The beginning of the video shows several wealthy Saudis in a large, elegant car saying ‘We are fine ,’ then a small boy from the neighbourhood of Al Jaradiya saying ‘We are not fine’. Others think the motive of their arrest was to scare young Saudis, who increasingly use social media and new technologies to express themselves and voice criticism of the government and the country, sometimes beyond the limits imposed by authorities.”

Firas Buqna posted this photo of himself on Twitter after he was freed from prison.

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