Arab uprisings that spread to the conservative Gulf region face a crucial test
this week in Saudi Arabia, where activists have made unprecedented calls for
mass protests against the kingdom’s absolute monarchy.
Protests are also
planned for Friday in other Gulf countries, including Yemen, Kuwait and
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The time after Friday prayers has proved to be crucial in
popular uprisings that have brought down Tunisian and Egyptian rulers who once
Gulf leaders are struggling to hold back an
Internet-era generation of Arabs who appear less inclined to accept arguments
appealing to religion and tradition to explain why ordinary citizens should be
shut out of decision-making.
Saudi Arabia, the largest country in the
Gulf, is home to Islam’s holiest sites – and is a long-time US ally that has
ensured oil supplies for the West.
More than 32,000 people have backed a
Facebook call to hold two demonstrations in the country, the first of them
Riyadh has tried to counter the call with promises of money and
other measures – including a pro-government Facebook page “against the
revolution” with 23,000 supporters.
The protest movements hit populous
Yemen a month ago, and spread to the Gulf states, where dynasties secured their
rule in colonial times.
Bahrainan – an island state, whose rulers look to
Riyadh for support – has been the most vulnerable so far.
hardline Shi’ite groups formed an alliance to ditch the monarchy and turn
Bahrain into a republic.
Majority Shi’ites who resent domination by the
al-Khalifa dynasty have staged pro-democracy protests. Analysts say Saudi
pressure has been heavy on Manama to stamp them out.
Yemen is also set
for an escalation after opposition groups – who have held pro-democracy marches
for the past month – rejected veteran ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh’s offer of
A small number of Kuwaitis’ held protests this week,
while activists and intellectuals in the United Arab Emirates petitioned the
rulers for democratic elections.
Last week Omanis clashed with police
over jobs and corruption in government.
US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton will travel to Egypt and Tunisia next week, becoming the most senior US
official to visit the region after popular revolts toppled US-allied governments
in both countries.
“I intend to convey strong support of the Obama
administration and the American people, that we wish to be a partner in the
important work that lies ahead as they embark on a transition to a genuine
democracy,” Clinton told a congressional panel on Thursday.
“We have an
enormous stake in ensuring that Egypt and Tunisia provide models for the kind of
democracy that we want to see,” she added.
Clinton’s visit will allow her
to personally assess the situation in Egypt – where the Obama administration
gave strong support to protesters who ultimately forced the resignation of
President Hosni Mubarak, a long-time US ally.
She will also talk to
transitional government officials in Tunisia, which launched the wave of
political turmoil sweeping the Arab world with mass protests that toppled
President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.
Meanwhile, in Iran security
forces killed three people in the western province of Kurdistan who were behind
an attack on a group of environmental workers, the official IRNA news agency
IRNA said the three killed four environmental workers
near the city of Sanandaj last Friday.
“Three terrorists... were killed
in clashes with security forces Wednesday night. Another terrorist was also
injured and later arrested,” it said.
Security forces in the west of Iran
often clash with guerrillas from PJAK – an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’
Party. PJAK took up arms in 1984 for an autonomous ethnic state in southeast
Turkey, and shelters in Iraq’s northeastern border provinces.