Perhaps it started as sheer coincidence, but just like a fire that starts from the smallest sparks, words that strike a chord with the oppressed in the oil kingdom could ignite the flammable stock of discontent that has been accumulating for decades in Saudi Arabia.
This is in short the essence of a new wave of appeals made by a new generation of people who do not necessarily belong to the past, despite their relatively disparate social and ideological allegiances. They might not be subject to the influence of the traditional concept of the tribal elder, which Abdul Aziz and his successors tried to transform into lowly recipients of handouts in return for their allegiance to the Saudi monarchy.
Today, they seem to be engaged in a well-developed, popular movement worthy of observation and analysis.
In what is a new, interactive, and courageous way to express the voice of the majority of young people in the oppressive kingdom, a group of youths from different tribes and regions of Saudi Arabia have started posting short video messages on YouTube, highlighting various popular demands.
The videos are structured in a way where a young activist, identified by the name of his or her tribe, makes a timed statement on camera lasting between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. The brief statements directly address King Abdullah, explaining issues people face such as: unemployment, poverty, shortages in housing and public services, and other socio-political issues like the freedom of expression and assembly.
Similar to what happened during the #Salaries_Not_Enough campaign, which quickly trended on Twitter, a hashtag was set up for the new appeals with the words: “The people have their say.” The campaign has so far mainly attracted youths, who have been sharing the videos and messages. Notable intellectuals and journalists have preferred to wait and see for the time being.
Below, we quote word for the most prominent posts spotted on social media, in chronological order:
On March 22, the man identified as Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd al-Dosari appeared in a 33-second clip, saying things that have not been heard in the kingdom for decades. Addressing King Abdullah directly, he said,
“I am a Saudi citizen. I do not get more than 1900 riyals ($506) [monthly]. By God, O Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, is this enough for dowry, a car, or a home? Brother, we are tired, and yet you blame those who bomb…O brother, help us; until when should we beg you from the oil [money]? Give us what you and your children have been playing with…give us what is our right […].”
The video received record views shortly after it was posted. By April 1, it had 1.6 million views.
On March 23, Abdullah Mabrouk bin Othman al-Ghamdi from the city of Bisha in southwest Saudi Arabia, posted another video, commenting on Dosari’s video. Addressing the king as well, he said:
“Based on my experience and observations, I support what the young man said in his appeal to the king. I ask everyone to join-in in the same manner so that our voice can reach the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and so that he learns of the situation, of the low wages, the rampant corruption, and the injustice, and that it is neither reasonable nor acceptable for a small elite, be it in power or a corrupt elite, to control state funds, while the rest of the people are starving and living in poverty and injustice. For this reason, I support what the young man said.”
He then displayed his identity card bearing his name and photograph, and called again on everyone to participate in the campaign. By April 1, the video had received up to 737,167 hits.
On March 27, Saoud Mardi Abdullah al-Bidani al-Harbi, born in Riyadh, posted a video expressing solidarity with the demands made previously. Commenting on the videos, he said:
“Of course, these are our demands, the demands of an entire people. Our voices have grown hoarse from talking about them. Our demands are easy…there is no need to come see them on Twitter or elsewhere, because they are all present in the advisor’s wastebasket. Don’t push the people to protest; do not force us to go into the street, because the number of black police cars is simply much less than the number of free people. It is easy for us to take to the street and demand our rights, in a peaceful manner of course, so please, please heed our voices. You have spoken to Jews and Christians, and tomorrow you will speak to Obama…please listen to us, fulfill our demands. We want housing, we want to have a decent life.”
Harbi then also showed his identity card with his photo and name on it.
On March 30, Abdul-Rahman Ali Ahmed Ghreidi al-Asiri, a physician, posted a video message, giving in 2 minutes and 32 seconds his brief and bold commentary, and said:
“I, citizen Abdul-Rahman Ali Ahmed Ghreidi al-Asiri, from Tuhama Asir (southwest Saudi), have seen videos by some of our good young compatriots like Dosari, Ghamdi, and Harbi, demanding their rights, their most simple rights, and they were imprisoned on the following day. The problem with you O House of Saud is that you deliberately humiliate and impoverish the people…poor Dosari said his salary is 1900 and this is not enough to buy dinner for one of your children. The next day, we saw how one of your princes bought a car inlaid with gold…
The problem with you, House of Saud, is that you have stolen everything. You stole our name, our country, and attributed it to you but by what right? You stole Islam and distorted it, you stole the prophet and made him a Saudi. Instead of distributing oil [revenues] among us and give to the people, you impoverish them, humiliate them, and if you do distribute it then you give it to the enemies of the nation like [Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah] al-Sisi and the Christians of Lebanon who see Arabs as nothing but scum [Sic].
The problem is that you have stolen everything. I am a doctor and I worked and trained at the [National] Guard, military hospitals, and Ministry of Health hospitals. One time, I put three patients on the same bed.
Where is this Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz? I am demanding rights; firstly, I ask why did you imprison them? These people demanded their right, so why arrest them? The man who was given a car inlaid with gold, it is from him that we want to take our rights.
As I record this video, you have bought allegiance for [Prince] Muqrin. The people are a piece of furniture [to you], this is unacceptable. If we speak out, then you imprison us, and say: if you don’t like it then leave the country. This is not your country alone. The people are asking for their rights. We want freedom, and I warn you, we want the right thing for our country. Yemen and Tunisia and others are in their second republic, and Saudi would enter its first republic if you don’t act.”
Then he brandished his identity card and showed it to the camera. The video has had over 1.5 million views.
On March 31, Wafi Mardi Abdullah al-Bidani al-Harbi, who is 18 years old, appeared in a video message after the arrest of his brother Saoud, and spoke about the detention of those who he said had only demanded their rights like his brother, Abdul Aziz al-Dosari, and others. He said:
“What about the supposed freedom of expression? Since when has demanding one’s rights become a crime punishable by prison in the country of the Two Holy Mosques, when they are legitimate and peaceful? The error and the crime are the arrests themselves…Oppression will not work.”
He then sent out two messages, the first addressing Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister, saying,
“We have had enough of rhetoric, yet we have almost died of thirst…we just want to live a decent life without injustice and persecution…enough is enough…our demands are our rights…bear in mind that the barrier of fear has been broken, and many among the people are not cowards.”
He then addressed the people, recounting a story told by Ali ibn Abi Taleb, who said that if you see the oppressor continuing to engage in injustice then know that his end is inevitable, and if you see the oppressed continuing to resist his oppressor, then know that his victory is inevitable. He then said,
“I hope I do not get myself detained like those before me. If I am detained then I hope that these appeals and initiatives do not go to waste.”
The younger Harbi then also showed his id card to the camera, bearing his full name. Within a day, the video had received 240,777 hits.
On March 31, the 23-year-old man Maaz Mohammed Suleiman al-Juhani from the Hijaz spoke and said,
“I want to address a message to the House of Saud[…]. You steal people’s money, ask people to give you their money, and then imprison them for debt. Where is your humanity? We call on the government to distribute the country’s wealth fairly among the people, and not monopolize it and steal it by you and your children, and to build housing, employ the unemployed, and increase wages. Otherwise, there will be dire consequences.”
On April 2, another young man appeared in a video message addressing the king. He said,
“I salute the five heroes, Dosari, Harbi, Ghamdi, Asiri, and Juhani…
O Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz; my name is Ghanem Hammoud Farah al-Masarir al-Dosari. These five are a crown on your head and prison is not where they belong…prison is a place for oppressors, evildoers, and tyrants…
O Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz; you are immoral and a liar. You promised a fund to the poor eight years ago but they haven’t seen it.
O Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz; you have plundered the wealth of the country under the guise of economic cities and fictive projects that are all just ink on paper.
O Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz; you have squandered the country’s wealth on Sisi’s gangs and coups everywhere, and yet you say you are the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
O Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz; from time to time, you throw crumbs at the people and you call it a royal gift. If they were of your salary and your trouble, then you could call them whatever you please, but the rights of the people are no gifts from you or anyone else.
O Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz; you say you are a humane king, but humaneness is innocent of you. Even your daughters have not been spared from your evil, and have been imprisoned for thirteen years.
People of the Two Holy Mosques; all peoples impeach their rulers when they become thieves, so when will you say to the thieves that they have no place among you?”
The above were some of the videos that have gone viral on social media and among Saudi youths for many reasons, including their outright boldness, the fact that they stuck a chord with the majority of young people and their concerns, their brevity, and most importantly because they were made by young people themselves.
The Saudi government’s reaction has been negative as expected. The Saudi government detained one young man after the other, but the Saudi youth have responded by staying defiant and showing their willingness to pay the price for their stances.
It seems that we are seeing a new wave of political protests and civil resistance worth watching, amid the insistence of the Saudi regime on pursuing a security-based approach in dealing with the demands of young people, who are an underprivileged majority in the oil kingdom.
By: Fouad al-Ibrahim