Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – Friday, 11 March 2011, was no different than any other Friday in the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh, except perhaps for an increased security presence ordered by the authorities to respond to any attempts to disturb or disrupt the security and stability of this city, which has a population of around 5 million, following calls on social networking website Facebook for a “day of rage” in 17 Saudi cities.
In Riyadh, only one protester turned out for this “day of rage.” Asharq Al-Awsat learnt that he was an Arabic language teacher in his forties, he was dressed in a shirt and trousers, and driving a luxury sports car. This protester identified himself as an opponent to the ruling regime in Saudi Arabia. Western media sent their journalist and reporters to cover any demonstrations and protests, but they were hard pressed to find any protests in Riyadh on Friday, and in the end these journalists had no choice but to gather around the single protester who had turned up, Arabic language teacher Khalid Muhammad Al Jahani.
The western journalists tried to draw out Al Jahani, but his overly dramatic answers did not seem to satisfy them, and he repeatedly stated that he believed he was going to be immediately arrested and sent to prison for his words. However this did not happen and Al Jahani was able to leave the site for the called demonstration without any trouble from the Saudi Arabian police or security apparatus.
Friday sermons throughout Saudi Arabia focused upon the seriousness of demonstrating against the regime, as well as warnings of the consequences of foreign interference in Saudi Arabian internal affairs.
For his part, Saudi Arabian Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh warned against some of the demands called for by the Facebook group, describing them as being unconstitutional. He also said that “Islam strictly prohibits protests in the kingdom because the ruler here rules by God’s will.”
The Saudi security apparatus allowed western and local journalists to attend the locations where protesters were scheduled to take place in Riyadh, however in the end no protests or demonstrations took place in the Saudi capital city.
The German News Agency [DPA] said that western reports investigating the origin of the Facebook calls for protest in Saudi Arabia, traced this to Facebook users outside of Saudi Arabia, particularly Iraq and Iran, as well as Egypt. Asharq Al-Awsat has been unable to confirm the details of this report with local sources.
Asharq Al-Awsat accompanied a group of western and local media to tour a number of sites in the Saudi capital Riyadh where protests and demonstrations had been called for. The Saudi Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Culture and Information had arranged for the local and western press to monitor the sites where protests were supposed to take place, but no protests took place in the Saudi capital.
In his Friday sermon, Head of the Senior Council of Ulema, Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, said that the protests and unrest currently being witnessed by the region was “alarming” and that those who had called for a “day of rage” in Saudi Arabia were aiming to incite sedition and create division in order to weaken the country.
Earlier this week, the Senior Council of Ulema, issued a statement saying that “the correct way in Islamic Sharia law of realizing common interests is by advising, which is what Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] established. Reform and advice should not take place via demonstrations that incite sedition and division.”
In his Friday sermon, the Saudi Arabian Grand Mufti also stressed that “the [Saudi] citizens and residents are responsible for the security of this country because the enemies want to harm and divide it.” He also called on the Saudi people not to be taken in by false slogans.
Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh also expressed his sorrow that “some of these ideas have been put forward by some Muslims…and they believe that these are good and righteous [ideas], but they do not know that they will lead to destruction and corruption.”