The face of the uprising in Saudi’s eastern province says that he “will be the next martyr”, in the country’s struggle for democracy.
The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia was one of the regions that had joined the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, to demand its political rights, and end the injustice and discrimination its people suffer at the hands of the Saudi regime on the basis of their sectarian affiliations.
The “uprising” began when young people in the province descended to the streets, demanding the release of nine prisoners, known as “the forgotten prisoners,” who had been at the time detained for 16 years. The subsequent entry of the Peninsula Shield forces into Bahrain then soon aggravated the protests in Qatif.
The Saudi regime responded to the peaceful protests by terrorizing the people of Qatif and Awamiyah, killing more than 20 people between 2011 and August 2012, and wounding more than 58 people. The number of people detained in the House of Saud’s prisons exceeded 1042, of whom 280 remain in prison, including 24 children and 5 who were sentenced to death for “using violence against the police.”
Not surprisingly, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among the early participants in the peaceful protests at the time. Sheikh Nimr’s track record shows him consistently standing up to the House of Saud regime on numerous occasions, most notably in 1979 when he took part in what was known as “the first uprising,” when he was 20 years old. At the time, he led the protesters against injustice and marginalization, who chanted for their freedom, rights, and emancipation from the tyranny of the House of Saud. He was shot in the foot during the protests.
Hamza al-Shakhuri, an activist who participated in the “uprising of 2011” and who was in direct contact with Sheikh Nimr, said the latter was akin to the “leader” of the protest movement. Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Shakhuri said, “The role of the Sheikh was to develop perspectives and objectives for the masses’ protests, and determine the course of their actions and work in order to reach their goals, namely, freedom, dignity and independence, and the rejection of domination, oppression, and manipulation of the fate of peoples and their wealth… as has been the case in the Arabian Peninsula since the emergence of the Saudi regime.”
In turn, Ali al-Dubaisi, another activist in the protest movement, pointed out that the role of Sheikh Nimr in the movement was in line with his desire to develop a reform project that would radically alter political administration in the kingdom, to be in line with the aspirations of the Saudi people.
Sheikh Nimr’s positions helped give the protest movement a strong boost in morale, thanks to his advice and guidance, which played an active role in giving the movement a sense of direction. Sheikh Nimr’s positions were credible because he led the protests himself, and came into direct and daily contact with popular activities related to the protest movement. This deepened his popularity and influence among the masses. In effect, he remains the most influential figure in the protest movement, and this is true both before and after his arrest.
In this regard Dubaisi said, “The Sheikh’s advice came from the position of someone who saw that he had a common destiny with the community, not as a leader who appears only to disappear without real motivation. He would thus chant after victims fell: I am the next martyr. And he would stand on the side of wanted people against the oppression of the regime, calling everyone to support and protect them.”
Dubaisi pointed out that the sheikh openly criticized the movement whenever this was necessary to push the youths to do what was needed to make the protest movement more effective. According to Dubaisi, the sheikh’s argument was that the more solid the foundations of the movement are, the better chances it has to endure and achieve its desired objectives among the people first, and vis-à-vis the regime second. At the same time, the sheikh did not fail to motivate and encourage the youths, and open up their intellectual horizons.
Sheikh Nimr’s premises in political action and advocacy have not been limited to what can be accomplished and achieved as tangible material results in the near term either.
Shakhuri stresses in this regard that the Sheikh believes the revolution for demands and rights in the Eastern Province will culminate with “the triumph of the will of the people and the accomplishment of their legitimate aspirations.”
Dubaisi agrees with this. He said the sheikh, despite his optimism regarding the protest movement, believes that “rights cannot be granted by the oppressor to the people without sacrifices by the people.” For this reason, Dubaisi continued, Sheikh Nimr would argue that “struggle, advocacy, and the quest to fulfill rights must be an ongoing endeavor in society that must continue regardless of the speed at which rights are obtained or not.” “If the current generation does not reap the results, then the next generation will,” he added.
To confront the House of Saud’s violent repression of the peaceful protests and unarmed activists in the Eastern Province, Sheikh Nimr always sought to alert activists to the need not to respond to the provocations made by the security services, or to resort to violence as the regime desires. He also called for discipline in the protests and stressed in his sermons the need not to resort to arms, or even use stones in clashes with the police.
Oddly, the Saudi prosecutor-general, as he laid out his case against Sheikh Nimr in August, read a text from a sermon delivered by the Sheikh ostensibly condemning him of inciting violence, when the text clearly shows Nimr calling for preserving the peaceful nature of the protest movement. The text reads, “I recommend for young people not to be dragged into confronting swords with swords with a regime that wants to lure people to violence to justify the repression of the protests. We are stronger with our words. We are willing to die. Our movement is not peaceful in the sense of submission. We are peaceable with those who choose peace, but keep your hands off. Martyrdom is the strongest weapon that can defeat the strongest regime.”
As people increasingly rallied around the protest movement in the Eastern Province, in conjunction with the uprising in Bahrain, Sheikh Nimr rose to lead the movement and support the revolution in Bahrain. The House of Saud regime soon found itself facing the dilemma of having to find a solution without offering concessions to the protesters, amid fears over a possible escalation that could lead to dire consequences.
In Shakhuri’s view, “the Saudi regime’s extreme aversion to protests in the Eastern Province and the need to maintain stability in that region are primarily the result of its geopolitical and economic importance.” Shakhuri continued, “The regime is fully aware that without the resources of the Eastern Province and its strategic location in the Gulf and the region, it would not be able to preserve the throne and its domination over the Arabian Peninsula.”
With the lack of vision on the part of the Saudi regime regarding how to deal with Sheikh Nimr, who was imprisoned five times previously between 2003 and 2008 on charges related to freedom of expression, belief, and human rights, the regime had no choice but to arrest him again.
Sheikh Nimr’s tone grew sharper with the escalation of the clashes in the Eastern Province. This gave the regime a pretext to arrest him on July 8, 2012, following his famous speech on June 22, in which he demanded an end to autocratic rule in Saudi Arabia, and condemned the symbols of repression and torture, led by the late Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, six days after the latter’s death.
The regime thought that by arresting Sheikh Nimr, it can put down the peaceful protest movement. However, these calculations failed since now, two years after the sheikh’s “capture,” protest events continue and the regime still faces popular rejection that it does not know how to deal with, albeit the protest movement has somewhat abated, for the time being.
Prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia
Prisoners of conscience / Eastern Region
|Detention Facility||Released Prisoners||Detailed Prisoners||Total|
|General Investigations Dammam||140||220||360|
|al-Milar and Haer Prison Riyadh||2||4||6|
|Juvenile Prison Dammam||75||13||88|
|al-Dammam General Prison||197||3||200|
|al-Khubar General Prison||32||–||32|
|al-Ahsa General Prison||76||–||76|
|al-Qatif General Prison||11||3||14|
|al-Qatif Police Jail||143||11||154|
|al-Dhahran Police Jail||32||–||32|
|Medina General Prison||12||–||12|
|Jeddah and Medina Investigations||28||2||30|
|Dammam Police Jail||13||–||13|
|The list of 18 accused of espionage||1||16||17|
|The list of 10 accused of espionage||0||8||8|
(Figures up until August 25, 2014)
Casualties and injured
(Figures up until August 25, 2014)
On December 18, 2013, Human Rights Watch released a 46-page report titled Challenging the Red Lines: Stories of Rights Activists in Saudi Arabia. The report shed light on the efforts of civil society activists to expand the scope of political participation, to reform the judiciary, and to put an end to sectarian discrimination. According to the report, the Saudi government responded with a crackdown on the activists to suppress the calls for change and halt the work and growth of the opposition, as the report states.
Up until August 25, 2014, the number of prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia reached 280 prisoners, including most notably Sheikh Saeed bin Seir, Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid, Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer, Dr. Mohammed al-Qahtani, and human rights activist Fadel Manasef, activist Fadel Suleiman, Sheikh Jalal al-Jalal, Samar Badawi and her husband, lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair, head of the Saudi Observatory for Human Rights, and Manal al-Sharif, who had defied a ban on driving for women.