When the protests first started over a year and a half ago, only about 150 or 200 people would dare participate in them. They weren’t calling for the overthrow of the government, just an end to discrimination against Shiites
. They wanted the authorities to release ‘forgotten prisoners’ – political prisoners held for years without trial. I remember telling my friends, ‘if the security forces start to arrest or kill people, many more will no doubt come out and support them.’ And that’s what happened.
After a few months, they started arresting people, and the number of protesters increased. After the first person was killed, their numbers went from the hundreds to the thousands. And as more people died, the protests kept growing
. It was no longer anymore just about the ‘forgotten prisoners’ or reforms; they started asking for justice for the dead and for the ruling family’s removal from power
The protesters also lost faith in their Shiite leaders, who tried to calm them by telling them that they were in dialogue with the government, and that it was best not to demonstrate so that these talks wouldn’t fall through. But seeing that their situation hasn’t improved, most Shiites don’t listen to them at all anymore. The protesters are mostly young, and don’t need leaders to rally around; they organise themselves using technology, mainly through Facebook pages.
During the past year, the situation for Shiites has gotten worse, not just in Qatif but all over. The authorities have cracked down, arresting more and more activists. The people are angrier than ever, and will not forget the dead. It just seems so unfair that our region has all the oil, but that we do not profit from this money. It’s hard to find work, and if you’re Shiite, you can forget about getting a government job with any responsibility. The best you can do is join the traffic police, not the regular police. And Shiite youth are harassed by the police non-stop. If nothing changes, I don’t foresee this protest movement dying down anytime soon; on the contrary, it seems that it will only grow.”