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The febrile atmosphere within Saudi Arabia

1 March 2013

11:13 AM

1 March 2013

11:13 AM

A Saudi court has sentenced Khaled al-Johani to 18 months in prison for protesting against the regime. His troubles started two years ago when Saudi activists inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt had planned a ‘Day of Rage’.

Fearing a popular revolt, the government instructed mosques across the country to warn their congregations against protesting. They also exploited Saudi’s still powerful tribal structure to ensure the incipient rebel movement was undermined. On the day, as police, Special Forces, and intelligence officers swarmed the area no one turned up – except Johani.


Johani then launched a one man protest and denounced the government to an assembled scrum of journalists. He bemoaned the lack of freedom, democracy, and social support. His son suffers from autism and can’t find a school that will take him. Johani predicted he would be arrested shortly after the protest (he was right), being held incommunicado for several months as if the Saudi state was deliberately trying to prove the very injustices against which he was protesting.

Although Johani was released last year, the Saudi government remains extremely nervous about stability inside the kingdom. In its Eastern province of Qatif where a large number of Shia Muslims are based, a steady stream of protest has been suppressed but the government remains paranoid about the prospect of rebellious sentiments spreading. Johani’s sentencing earlier this week not only reminds potential critics that dissent remains a crime, but also reveals just how febrile the atmosphere within Saudi Arabia remains.

Johani’s quite remarkable one-man protest (with English subtitles) can be viewed here:

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Show comments
  • Nick

    What’s wrong with so many Muslims? Why are they stuck in the dark ages?

  • andagain

    Brave man, clearly.

  • In2minds

    Khaled al-Johani, what’s he want, a referendum?

  • James Strong

    One of my political fantasies is of the United States invading the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and establishing a Republic of East Arabia.
    Leave the devout Saudis to possess the ‘Two Holy Mosques’, which are in the west of the country. Leave them Riyadh, in the desert. Let them grow their food in the south-west of the country, and let them live in an Islamic state that, with little oil, would have no hold over us.
    Ah, but a man can dream.

    • itdoesntaddup

      Saddam had a fantasy like that too. Doubtless so does Ahmadinejad.

  • James Strong

    Qatif is only one town in the Eastern Province. Other than that small mistake, a very good article.
    Qatif is overwhelmingly Shia and has been a centre of dissent for decades. When the residents get very uppity the put-down is brutal.
    Most of the oil is in the Eastern Province.

  • Noa

    Even in a Saudi prison 18 months is a remarkably lenient sentence for a dissenter in a country where public beheadings are routinely carried out in the Country’s city squares after Friday prayers.
    It’s simply a warning to others to behave.

    The ultimate choice is between a Shia Muslim Brotherhood led theocracy and a senile Sunni Absolute Monarchy.
    Both are alien to Western civilisation, Christianity and the UK. The former attacks the West directly, the latter seeks to subvert it by covert activity.

    Which would care to deal with and have supply the petrol in your fuel tank?

    • Molly

      Best to find another source of fuel. The whole middle east is a powder keg, primed to explode- tribes, religion, Sunni, Shia, disaffected unemployed youngsters, primitive beliefs, oppression of women, primitive behaviours, etc etc etc. We’re best standing well back and watching.

      • Noa

        Who do you suggest?

  • Hexhamgeezer

    It would have nice if you’d told us a bit about the ‘febrile’ bits.