Author: As-Safir (Lebanon) Posted July 16, 2012
When some people asked last year  if the popular movements in the Arab world had reached Saudi Arabia, they were accused of being delusional or hyperbolic. Most believed that the few signs of popular mobility and the limited calls for change were insignificant, and that the regime would be able to contain any bouts of exploding popular anger.
With the re-eruption and expansion of protests in Qatif, in eastern Saudi Arabia, Saudis are now asserting that the "Spring" has arrived. However, these observers also claim that it is not yet mature and that the kingdom is still absorbing its effects. The various demonstrations that have emerged differ from area to area. Some have taken place in locations accustomed to dealing with political affairs, such as the Eastern Province, and others where politics have only recently been introduced.
The events in the Eastern Province began to develop after the arrest of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. During the operation that led to his arrest, he was wounded and two others were killed. The wave of popular anger proliferated as a result, and unknown individuals threw Molotov cocktails at the court headquarters in Qatif. The court is now examining “10 cases related to the riots" and rulings are expected to be issued within a week. A day prior to the operation (July 7), a high-ranking Saudi security official said that armed men had attacked a police station in the town of Al-Awamiya, in the province of Qatif.
The Eastern Province is boiling. Mass rallies are taking place while condemnations and demands for the release of the detainees can be found all over the media, social-networking sites and in YouTube videos. The mounting level of anger is threatening to inflame the situation.
Many things have changed since the popular movements began last year. Saudi opposition figure Hamza al-Hassan told As-Safir that the protests have moved to areas outside of the Eastern Province. He added that the initial protests carried out by the Shiites in the Eastern Province used to restrain other groups. “The Sunnis — the Salafists in particular — did not want to emulate the Shiites in their movements. Today, however, things have changed. We are seeing clashes in Ar’ar, protests in Riyadh, and there is hardly a place with no active popular movements in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Analyzing the reasons why the crisis is exploding now — and which might also be useful to foretell the future — Hassan said that the government chose a bad time to exacerbate the situation by arresting Sheikh Nimr. When Nimr became active in last year’s movements, the authorities did not dare to arrest him. They thought that since the movements’ momentum had subsided, arresting Nimr would not have any repercussions. They also wanted to "flex their muscles" by sending out a message to the Shiites and Sunnis alike that the state is not weak, even if the regime is losing its “pillars" one after the other (as the death of Princes Sultan and Nayef happened in a short period of time).
Hassan added, “What is different this time is that the elders of the Eastern Province are refusing to make any concessions ... Previously, they accepted compromises, but nothing has changed." According to the Washington Post, the kingdom has made a lot of promises and spent money out of fear, but “despite all of these promises, it did not provide any solutions to address the problems the people are complaining about."
The Saudi dissident said that the kingdom was surprised by the arrest’s repercussions, and that the situation escalated with the death of two young men. He added that the kingdom had been subjected to US pressures. The US is fearful that the rebellious movements could threaten the oil resources located in the region. Hassan said that Nimr was officially arrested in relation to a speech he made cheering the death of Prince Nayef, but he noted that “many Sunnis and Salafists said worse words after the death of the Crown Prince."
A Foreign Policy report raises questions about the “curious” timing of the arrest, and presents three theories to explain it.
First, there are conspiracy theorists who argue that the hardliners within the ruling family, such as the former Crown Prince and interior minister Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, had been using Nimr to scare the Sunnis and oppose King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and tentative outreach to the Shiites. On this topic, Hamza al-Hassan pointed to "the regime’s talk of a conspiracy, which it views as undoubtedly coming from Iran."
The second theory is that “arresting Nimr earlier would have created heightened unrest”, which the government wanted to avoid, because he had only been appearing in large crowds at funerals or at his mosque. The third theory, which originates from a Wikileaks cable, is that “the government was always ultimately going to react, but on its own timetable."
According to the US magazine, there is another, even more worrisome, dimension. The arrest of Nimr comes amid a military buildup in the Gulf and a similar crackdown in Bahrain. Whereas the exclusion of Nimr was expected to have positive results, things went in a different direction, and the conclusion is now unpredictable. Regardless, it is going to be a “a hot summer indeed” according to Elliott Abrams, researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2012/07/why-have-saudi-movements-erupted.html