Arab Spring Expectations & ACPRA Trials: Word Play & A Shift of Power in Saudi Arabia

I.

Following the Arab Spring, there have been suggestions that the image of the Middle East has been improved, according to some mystical set of standards, and that the need to dispel stereotypes is no more. I believe this is false, the framework around the Middle East, on whole, has not changed. The Orientalist and Islamophobic lenses remain firmly before the eyes of analysts, even adopted by some locals of the Middle East themselves, who chose to practice ‘self-Orientalism’. Recently, I have become interested in whether this problem of framework does, or does not, plague the field of Middle East Studies. So far, the most successful classes I have come across were ‘Arab Revolutions’, with Mark Levine, and ‘Middle East Narratives’, with Daniel Brunstetter, as both incorporated voices directly from the Middle East, either via guest speakers or Skype calls, and both placed an emphasis on historical context. It was not so much what was being said by these ‘voices of the Middle East’ that added value, rather, it was the simple attempt to dispel the prevalent ‘Otherness’ that is perceived about the region.

Over the past quarter, however, in which I took two US Foreign Policy classes, I have been introduced to a new brand of Middle East Studies. The first of these classes issued a disclaimer at its start that the class will span a history of America’s relation to the world, except the Middle East. I haven’t the slightest idea why. The second class, while well intentioned, offered analysis of the Middle East no deeper than a Thomas Freidman article. “Saudi Arabia is like a pile of sand. And if you poke it, oil will burst out. Kuwait is just a smaller version, it’s about the size of this campus!”, explained my professor. While I busied myself, looking around for the nearest hard surface to bash my head on.

He went on to say how “volatile” the region is, and that the Arab Spring meant only problems for Washington. A student asked what the Arab Spring “in countries like Saudi Arabia” would mean – at which point I felt like the ‘problem child’ of a family. My professor responded that he wasn’t too sure, but that there were “terrorist sympathizers” in “those kind of countries”. I watched as my fellow classmates feverously took notes. For them, his opinion was Truth. It was one of those moments when you are faced with a choice: should I just let it go? Or, do I bother pointing out how his viewpoint itself hinges on the assumption that anything is only worthy if it is stable, predictable, and in accordance with the desires of Washington, while all else, apparently, is “terrorist sympathizing”. I grew frustrated; he had stripped Saudi Arabia of its diverse peoples, complex history, and current changes. I was also resentful of how he managed to portray the Arab Spring as ‘scary’ by pointing to its supposed inevitable Clash with ‘Terrorists’, all while alarming my impressionable classmates in the process.

As a result, later in the course, I found myself using the open-ended essay assignment as an opportunity to list “proofs” that “change” was happening in Saudi Arabia, and that it was more than a terrorist-loving pile of sand. Only after submitting it did I realize that, although I was trying to problematize his flat commentary, I only did so by pointing to examples that aligned with what I knew he would consider “US values”. I came to the frustrating conclusion that I had just succumbed to the temptation of arguing within his same framework of judgment. And it is a temptation, isn’t it? It is tempting to practice the far easier method of simplifying Saudi Arabia, and more broadly the Arab Spring. It is easy to idealize it, and point to all the aspects that we know will please whomever it is we’re debating with.

But the fact is that the “Arab Spring” is a term fit only for the relativists’ playground. There is simply no way around it; it has been assigned different meaning by different people, and you will find elements within it from absolutely every single strand of political thought. As a result, very little can be said generally about the Arab Spring. In fact, it’s questionable whether anything can be said of it at all. But that is the role of the writer, isn’t it? To at least try and create meaning around what they observe, while acknowledging that the influence of perspective is always present when doing so.

And so, in this post, I will symbolically resubmit that essay, leaving behind the pressure of appealing to a Thomas Friedman–like professor. I will attempt to look at what the Arab Spring has meant for current Saudi political discourse, how it has fueled the rights movement that is being pioneered by the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), resulting in arrests and trials of its co-founders, as well as highlight a few cases of Saudi citizens who have witnessed its activities and explore the patterns of exclusion and Otherizing throughout.

II.

I recall the moment I read a tweet by Mohammed al-Qahtani, one of the ACPRA co-founders on trial, in which he wrote, “the government wanted to intimidate us (himself and fellow activists Abdullah al-Hamid) by putting us on trial, so we have decided to put the government on trial!”. Is it possible, I wondered, for two individuals to put an entire government on trial? Do they really have the power to do so?

But this is misrepresenting power; it cannot be possessed by one, or be taken by another. Rather, power shifts, and is mediated with reference to the “dominant discursive structures [that] provide a set of expectations with reference to which agents may exercise power over other agents, as well as over themselves, to ensure conformity… [to] what constitutes normality or deviance” (Foucault). In short, power is word play. Thus, in effect, when al-Qahtani proclaimed that ACPRA was “putting the Saudi government on trial”, this meant that he, and his fellow activists, were intent on utilizing the moment to shame the regime in social media and expose it in countless letters filed to the UN Human Rights Council for its violation of its own rhetoric and the dominant discursive structure of what has come to be perceived generally as “Arab Spring expectations” in current Saudi Arabian political discourse.

III.

And although it is difficult to determine what precisely the “Arab Spring” means, it can be said that those in the Saudi government have not only taken note of it, but also realized that, whatever it may mean, it has imposed its presence on the country. The Arab Spring was appealed to as a dazzling event that (direct and indirect) members of the government wanted to associate it with, its force as a positive rhetorical tool could not be avoided. For instance, in a recent interview with The Charlie Rose Show, Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Ambassador to the US, stated, “I think Saudi Arabia over the past 80 years has been going through an Arab Spring”. And Prince Khaled al-Faisal, the self-proclaimed poet, told an audience of students at their graduation ceremony, “You started the Saudi Spring 82 years ago. The miracle is you always surpass others… you proved that there is a miracle in this land, called the Saudi man”.

Others, often called “drummers”, i.e. someone who consistently beats the drums of flattery at the regime’s every move, have also attempted to associate the Saudi government with the “Arab Spring”, sometimes by alluding to it through the use of “democracy”, which has become closely tied to “Arab Spring” in Saudi discourse. An infamous example of this is a writer who argued in an op-ed that Saudi Arabia is a “Silent Democracy”. Props for the discovery of this entirely new form of Democracy go to Samar al-Megren, who claimed, “Many always complain that Saudi Arabia has no free press… [but it] might be the only country in the Arab World that permits dissidents to write in its newspapers… [Because] we are practicing Democracy silently, and this is true Democracy”. While Idris al-Drais wrote, after King Abdullah announced the new Crown Prince (and after his first newly appointed Crown Prince died), that “King Abdullah’s new appointments were a result of him knowing the pulse of the streets, the high opinion of those he has chosen, and their popularity among the public for their patriotic works… in reality, this is the true form of Desert Democracy”. It is not a coincidence that they appeal to concepts such as “free press” and “public opinion”, terms that can be considered derivative of “democracy” and have also become associated with “Arab Spring” within Saudi domestic discourse. These are the “Arab Spring expectations” to which I referred to earlier that even the government’s supporters have found themselves evoking rhetorically. There are numerous other “drummers” examples to point to, but these two were my favorites, and by far the most humorous.

Now, it’s important to note that I am not claiming that these expectations are universally agreed on in their specificity, that would be sugarcoating it. Some of these expectations are more contested than others, as evidenced by the issue of “free speech”, another perceived “Arab Spring expectation” in Saudi, that was hotly debated during the arrest of Hamza Kashgari for blasphemy (a story of domestic political rivalry and classism that will require it’s own post). But I do believe these expectations have in fact become far more widespread and entrenched as abstract moral expectations of behavior posited by the government and individuals alike. This is not to say that the Saudi population was “awakened” by the Arab Spring, for corruption has never been a secret. Rather, the desire for the abstract “change”, since different individuals have different definitions of improvement and change, has been elevated to full-blown expectation. This expectation is a result of a combination of witnessing the genuine potential for change that resulted from the Arab Spring, and an increased ability to speak out in regards to grievances within the Kingdom. The center stage of this is Twitter, which brought to light previous conversations that remained within homes and only occasionally slipped into mosques and op-eds, typically to be followed by swift governmental repercussions. Now, the general public has a place to speak. And when one speaks and hears his words echoed back to him by others, an incomparable feeling of being justified and confident as speaker results. This is how firm expectations are born.

It is this constant flow of collective critique on social media, along witnessing with the Arab Spring and its promise of change, which has normalized the political, bringing the ‘unmentionables’ out into the open, to all of society. This is particularly true when you couple it with the current Saudi youth bulge and high unemployment, in other words, the inability to be subdued by good living conditions. Because, contrary to the common stereotype of the Gulf, affluence is not to be found across society. Rather, it is concentrated in a class of elites and the upper-middle class of the Saudi bourgeoisie. And these upper classes practice political blindness, they are aware of corruption, some even participate in it, but they will not speak of it. Instead, they busy themselves with self-Orientalist musings of how ‘backwards’ the country is, and often travel to ‘get away’ from it all. And because of this tendency, perhaps the most iconic moment in which the Arab Spring imposed its political force on every part of society imaginable, including these affluent classes, was when protests of the “e3teqal” movement, for the illegally detained, filled their Riyadh malls. At that moment, the Saudi bourgeoisie were forced to face the political. And I must admit, I found it quite amusing to watch their complaints fill Twitter, they claimed they understood the cause but didn’t like their shopping activities being disrupted. I couldn’t help but smile at the ever-expanding political mischief the Arab Spring has brought to my beloved “pile of sand”.

IV.

Not all of the Saudi bourgeoisie were as understanding of the protestors, however. Some referred to them as “extremists” who ought to be jailed for their protesting. The women in the protest were fully covered and the men had shorter thoubs, a physical indication of their conservative religious stances, and apparently this was sufficient to determine their guilt in the eyes of the shoppers. Frankly, they reminded me of my professor in their demonizing conservatives as “terrorist sympathizers”. The government is well aware of the opportunity this poses for it, and has attempted to exploit it when possible. In a recent comment by the Grand Mufti, a religious figurehead of the Saudi government, he said, “It is religiously wrong to make light of serious crimes by al-Qaeda affiliate, it is wrong to make them appear as prisoners of conscience. Some are publicizing the issue, holding gatherings for periods of time at different places, and they’re calling for the release of those who are charged or accused of terrorist crimes”. What is most telling of the “e3teqal” movement’s influence is that this statement used the same language that the activists have been using online and at their protests. And in its distinguishing between different types of detainees, though the intent was to demonize the activists, the government was still using rhetoric in accordance with the “Arab Spring expectation” of “free speech” when it implied that the detainees were “terrorist criminals” and ought to be imprisoned, rather than prisoners of conscience, who ought not be. The Saudi government also issued an uncharacteristically detailed statement to the media in which it claimed all prisoners are “receiving their full rights” after imprisonment and then listed the names of ten individuals and the supposed charges against them, the same names that had been circling online. Many were disturbed by the fact that the government had included Mohammed al-Bajadi, a co-founder of ACPRA who was arrested for his activism and speech against the government. They viewed the inclusion of his name among a few names that were publically known for their terrorist affiliations, such as Haila al-Qairsar, as purposefully done in order to smear his image of being a prisoner of conscience. And while this is likely true, it is still significant that the government felt it was prudent at all to issue such a long statement in response to, and evidence of, the pressure mounted by the “e3teqal” movement, its allegations against the government’s ill-treatment of prisoners, and its numerous protests against their illegal detainment. Paradoxically, the government’s indirect rhetorical responses to the movement have only made it stronger. And yet the government cannot abstain from issuing such responses, since that too would only strengthen it.

Rhetoric is a tool and words are powerful; their versatility allow for manipulation through associations, but it is not always practiced with intent to demonize and deceive. In fact, one of the key contributions of ACPRA to the Saudi civil rights movement is the active rhetorical refashioning of the term “Jihad” as peaceful protest, and “Shura” as democratic participation in government. This rhetorical refashioning is most notably the effort of Abdullah al-Hamid, ACPRA’s co-founder. This comes after the Saudi government had first promoted “Shura” as political participation achieved through a non-elected Shura Council that only held advisory status. While the term “Jihad” had been promoted as a term holding proactive force, and allowed Sahwa Shaiks of the 1970-80s to utilize it as a rallying term to encourage Saudi citizens to fight the US and Saudi government’s war against Communist USSR in Afghanistan. After which the term was later pointed inward, by what was then called “al-Qaeda”, to launch attacks against the Saudi government itself in the 1990s. Mass arrests resulted, along with the instatement of governmental rehabilitation centers that used highly questionable tactics to “fix” the situation. It was hardly a just response to such a complex issue. Recently, as part of John Hopkins’s International Reporting Project, a “Saudi ex-Jihadist” and former Guantanimo detainee named Khalid al-Hubayshi was interviewed, “Jihad is a good thing in Islam, but it’s often misinterpreted. If someone fought in my country and takes my house, I’m going to fight. This is what we call jihad. But if I go to some area to help one group against another group, that wouldn’t be Islamic”. According to the article, this man had undergone “rehabilitation” by the Saudi government, which found itself having to refashion the term “jihad”, after the September 11 Attacks, to be a negative act, limited to self-defense, as heard in al-Hubayshi’s interview.

Abdullah al-Hamid has promoted another alternative meaning and is featured in one of ACPRA’s YouTube lectures telling his viewers, “There are important differences between militant jihad and political jihad. First, that political jihad is peaceful. It’s tools are the pen, the tongue, and social efforts like protests and sit-ins that are void of the shots of guns and during which its participants lift no whip or stick… Women and elders may participate in this peaceful jihad, although they are not obligated to do so. I have even witnessed many women and children attend my own court trials… Peaceful Jihad (peaceful protest) needs to be promoted in political culture, rather than militant jihad, along with the concept of Shura (democratic participation)… How beneficial has the current method of ‘quiet advisory to the ruler’ been? Not at all! And yet look at civil society in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, they are all headed towards Shura-based governments in months! This is proof that peaceful jihad is the solution and it, not the sword, has lead to over hundreds of democracies across the world”. From this small excerpt of the lecture, one can understand the redefining of the term “jihad” to not be limited to a negative action that is purely for self-defense and reactionary, as al-Hubayshi learnt in the Saudi regime’s rehabilitation center, instead, it is a positive action that includes action aimed at alleviating an injustice through participation in peaceful protest.

Picture A

This is, of course, not to deny that Saudi so-called “enlightened Islamists”, and more broadly, Islamic scholarship in general, in the past has also interpreted religious text in such a way that supports what is called “democracy” and its “values”. In fact, it was the Prophet Mohammed that began this legacy in stating, “the greatest Jihad is a just word before a tyrant”. But rather, it is the Arab Spring generally, and ACPRA specifically, that have rejuvenated such interpretations and brought them to the forefront again in Saudi politics. Ironically, it is the Saudi government itself that has assisted in this rejuvenation, through its continuous arrests of activists, which motivates the “e3teqal” movement, and its trial of two prominent ACPRA co-founders, which mobilizes their supporters to campaign for them regularly online, thus maintaining a steady public awareness of the NGO and its aim of change through “peaceful Jihad” and “Shura”. This was further accomplished when the activists pushed for their trials to be public, resulting in Saudi Arabia’s most public trial yet, as even local newspapers and reporters from Al Jazeera and Sky News were present.

V.

Some Saudi liberals have voiced complaint at ACPRA’s apparent “religious-cloaking” of what are perceived as “Arab Spring expectations” and its support of conservatives in the “e3teqal” movement. And, while these liberals claim to support the concept of the Rule of Law, they too view these political prisoners as “terrorist sympathizers” that ACPRA ought not bother itself with, either because they pose a safety threat to society or for the pragmatic reason that they might tarnish the image of ACPRA. A relevant example of this was a conversation that occurred a few months ago on Twitter, between Mohammad al-Qahtani, co-founder of ACPRA, and a Saudi woman, who is liberal-leaning ideologically and has indirect ties to the Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission. She asked, “Why do they want liberation of all those in jail, do they want to make the guilty innocent?”. Al-Qahtani responded that each citizen is innocent until proven guilty in a fair and open trial, “I never claimed that they are all prisoners of conscience, but they are in fact victims of illegal detentions. Why haven’t they been tried?”, he asked. She replied by pressing her own view of their guilt further, pointing to the Twitter accounts of some of the “e3teqal” protestors’ supporters, and their avatars of black flags. To her, this was confirmation of their evil, terrorist sympathies. Not only had she resorted to Other-izing, with the aim of excluding the Other of its rights, she also did not hear her own contradiction: she was concerned with all the illegally detained being framed as prisoners of conscience, while essentially sanctioning the arrest of their supporters, simply for their less-than-appealing opinions towards what she defined as ‘terrorism’. “ACPRA welcomes only peaceful protest, we have worked hard to draw many away from violence to more peaceful means of expression”, argued al-Qahtani. “If ACPRA should be credited for anything, it should be for encouraging many to forgo violence”, he went on to remind her, “and [remember,] it was the government that first legitimized violent means by promoting its use in Afghanistan”.

 Picture B

 

VI.

I will now turn to an example of the “terrorist sympathizers”, so that the discussion of this Other does not remain in abstraction, and the complexity of real-life can be acknowledged.

It was Saudi Arabia’s National Day, September 23; a day of endless traffic, green spray-painted cars, vandalized stores, and Saudi flags. And while the unruly celebrations carried on, the city of Buraidah in the Qassim Province saw Saudi protestors spend their 20th hour in what was called the “al-Tarfiyah sit-in”. The protestors were mainly conservatives, and attended the sit-in because they had a relative who was illegally detained. Many pictures were posted online; one struck me in particular. It was a picture of a child, the accompanied caption explained that he was dressed in Afghan clothing… and his name was Osama. No doubt his name was chosen to emulate what they considered “good” in contrast to what they deemed “evil”.

I wondered what he must have been thinking. His eyes were so big. He had a loved one in jail, I realized, that’s why he had joined the sit-in. Under other circumstances he might’ve been, like other Saudi children on the National Day, sitting on the edge of a car window, or dancing in a street.

A3iuMu4CIAAwfH2.jpg-large

But he wasn’t. He was at a sit-in, protesting a relative’s illegal detainment, along with 13 other children, 60 men and 45 women.

 Picture 2

Picture 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wondered what he must have thought of his clothes; different from the regular white thoub protestors were wearing. I wondered further, was he told the stories of battles conquered in Afghanistan? Did he hear of the great fight against the “infidel” Soviet Communists years ago, with the help of angels, as legends say, – and, of course, with the training and financial support of the US and Saudi governments.

Picture 4

He must be frightened, too, I thought. The governmental response to this peaceful sit-in was anything but mild. Anti-riot buses approached the protestors; officers with helmets and shields emerged. In the picture below, you can see young Osama holding onto someone’s hand, watching as the riot police approach. How will he remember them, what solid associations will he have with their uniforms? All from that single moment in time, right there.

Picture 5

The officers spoke with the protestors and assured them that their demands would be met if they agreed to leave. Due to exhaustion and ill preparedness, as the protestors had stayed the night and their food and water had run out hours ago, they obliged. Unfortunately, as they made their way out, they discovered the road had been blocked on one side, and the anti-riot busses began to surround them from the other.

Picture 6

Picture 7

The problem with this protest was that it was in a secluded, desert-like area, just outside of a prison. This meant it was far from the public eye, which could have acted as semi-protection for the protestors. Needless to say, it ended horribly. It is estimated that around 50 men were arrested. Some have been released since then, while others remain detained. A woman named Rema al-Joraish, whose husband has been illegally detained for the past 8 years and she too has been arrested briefly after taking part in protests against his detainment, spoke to Reuters before participating in the al-Tarfiyah sit-in and (likely because of that) was later specifically targeted and physically attacked by officers. She had to recover in a hospital afterwards, but did not hesitate to speak to Al-Hewar Channel regarding the treatment she received. There were reports of other beatings occurring, including the use of electric tasers. All with the young Osama present.

Picture 8

Just a few months later, a student in my classroom will ask about “countries like Saudi Arabia” and the “problem of terrorist sympathizers”. These reductionary questions are asked because it is moments like these that no one will remember. It is this governmental oppression and lack of care for citizens’ grievances that will be ignored. And like the Arab Spring protestors who held up tear-gas canisters to reveal the “MADE IN USA” stamp on the bottom, young Osama will likely grow up to learn of the ‘special relationship’ between his country and another, the United States. He will grow to read of the countless riyals spent on arms deals in the newspapers, as he speaks of it to his jobless friends. He will think of the Syrian revolutionaries, just as many do now, and wonder why the Saudi government banned his ability to help them through Jihad. It will be a confusing message; didn’t the government like what was done in Afghanistan? We beat the soviets; we (ultraconservatives) were heroes, weren’t we? The mixed messages will feel endless. He will see US bases in Riyadh and the special treatment given to those within or affiliated with them, he will hear of the occupation of Iraq. He might learn of how, “during the 1970s, there was a growing convergence of interests between the world’s leading petroleum and armament corporations… the politicization of oil, together with the parallel commercialization of arms, exports, helped shape an uneasy weapondollar-petrodollar coalition” (Nitzan & Bichler) and he may conclude, as Mark Levine did, that “the peoples of the region have to fight two battles simultaneously: against their own despotic and corrupt governments, and against the larger ‘world’ financial system”.

And, yes, he may utter the religious “infidel” label, but only after feeling the political loss of his country’s sovereignty and questioning his own self-determination within it. He will likely hear of the Islamic Umma Party which attempted to achieve legal status in Saudi Arabia, but failed and many of its founders were arrested for merely asking for such a “privilege” . He might even then ask, why aren’t I allowed to discuss things with my government, participate in it, protest it, or voice my opinions on issues I care about? The government will give the ready answer: its doors are always open. And when he finds that those doors open only when the government decides they will, the Ulema will respond: protest is religiously prohibited, it means going against the ruler, which is unjust – unless, of course, you are a Syrian revolutionary. In that case, protest would be religiously permissible, not the least because you’d be protesting the Assad regime, an ally of a politically “evil” foe of Saudi: Iran. He will ask himself, isn’t political oppression in my own country, religiously “evil”, as well? Realizations of hypocrisy will fill his mind.

Maybe he will join in the peaceful “e3teqal” movement for the illegally detained and organize his own sit-ins, just like the one we first saw him in. Or, maybe, he will find his intellect drawn to Saudi’s Constitutional Monarchy movement and participate in legal battles against the government, just as ACPRA has. Or, unfortunately, he may turn the way of violent protest. And if he does, the audaciously shallow commentators will be shocked anew, repeating the same questions, “why are they so violent?” and, “how do we solve the problem of these ‘terrorist sympathizers’”. There are plenty of reasons why people become violence, why this “problem” exists, if only you cared to listen.

VII.

I do not write this post easily, or take my stance lightly. As a Saudi-American, it is difficult to work through these views. On September 11, 2012, I woke to a Twitter timeline filled with tweets from relatives of prisoners, that I follow and have written for in support of their rights, tweeting their support of Osama Bin Laden. A few of them even used his picture as their Twitter avatar. I then watched as a few hashtags were created titled ‘Happy September 11’, ‘In Memory of Osama’, and the like. And later that day, after the fiasco of the anti-Islam film erupted; I saw protests with anti-American sentiments appear in a few cities of Saudi Arabia. This was topped off by an Arab Nationalist friend retweeting something to the effect of, “since American’s didn’t care that we (Arabs) die, we don’t care when they die!”. It is emotionally taxing, to grapple with being Other-ized for half of my identity and resisting the temptation to respond in the same manner. It also felt like a moral dilemma, it occurred to me that perhaps I was doing something wrong? In advocating for the political inclusion of ‘Others’ and actively writing in support of their rights, when it appeared they were happy at the sight of American deaths, am I somehow betraying my American half?

For that short moment, I had thought as my professor did, and some Saudi liberals do, and viewed them as the abstract “terrorist sympathizers”. After giving it further thought, I came to the conclusion that I had entirely missing the point. I had allowed myself to understand it as a personal attack, rather than a political complaint. Their opinions are not ahistorical; they have roots in perceived and actual wrongs committed in the past. And if I give in to the desire for their exclusion, I essentially consent to the possible exclusion of myself as well. Citizenship ought not be based on sameness. And we ought to engage with others, not point at Others.

And this is precisely why I support ACPRA, regardless of what liberals have said. It has chosen to engage, to participate, to try and maneuver through the complicated Saudi political stage. And I am ever grateful to them for this. I only wish the liberals would come down from their Ivory Twitter Towers, stop their hysteria over any inkling of religiosity they see in political reformists, and forgo their government-promoted fear of them as “terrorist” Others. Accept that they are citizens of their same country, who ought to have their same rights.

VIII.

This Saturday was the final court session of ACPRA’s co-founders. Mohammad al-Qahtani spent the week before his final trial tweeting his experience in political activism, starting in the summer of 1991 when he arrived in the US to earn a degree in economics. Sadly, his tweets have a sort of farewell-tone to them. During the previous trial session, Abdullah al-Hamid, whose representative Salman al-Rashudi has been arrested, read a 40-page long response to the court. He called for a Constitutional Monarch, and ended up shedding tears while doing so. Many reacted online, even starting a hashtag in his honor. Now that the final court session has taken place, many are worried to hear the judge’s decision on January 7, 2013. A brief moment of controversy occurred after the arrest of Turki al-Hamad, a well-known Saudi liberal. Some critiqued ACPRA for its initial silence at his arrest, but these voices were soon quiet when both Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid spoke against the illegal detainment of Turki al-Hamad, and they did so in spite of their knowing the possible political repercussions they may face from their conservative supporters.

On a lighter note, just this past week, the Arab Spring blew its winds through the halls of a small elementary school in the city of Rafha, where little boys hung their campaign posters, making promises to contribute to their school. And others placed a paper in a box, in hopes that their choices for the Student Union would win. It was covered in a local Rafha newspaper, where the teachers explained the point was that, “it was a way for the students to learn responsibility, love of others, care for their needs, and a method for them to express their opinions and preserve their rights within the school”.

 

Hopefully, the “Arab Spring” and the bravery of activists in protests and trial sessions, will continue to push along the power shift from the government to the people. Whatever the judge’s decision is in regards to the most public Saudi trial of ACPRA’s co-founders, these activists have pushed for rights, influenced minds, risked their lives, and have already left a great mark on the history of Saudi Arabia – I cannot thank them enough.

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2 thoughts on “Arab Spring Expectations & ACPRA Trials: Word Play & A Shift of Power in Saudi Arabia

  1. Pingback: The Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights’ Mohammad al-Qahtani | ECDHR

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