SAUDI ARABIA

Shiite bikers mobilise to defend community

 Unlike the mainstream Saudi public, which was slow to follow calls for a national day of protest in Saudi Arabia on March 11, Saudi Shiites seem determined to engage in a long-term battle with the government. Among them, a group of young motorbikers are trying to add a touch of originality to their community’s protest movement.

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Unlike the mainstream Saudi public, which was slow to follow calls for a national day of protest in Saudi Arabia on March 11, Saudi Shiites seem determined to engage in a long-term battle with the government. Among them, a group of young motorbikers are trying to add a touch of originality to their community’s protest movement.

 

In Saudi Arabia, Sunni Muslims are in the majority while Shiites represent only 10 percent of the 23 million citizens. They have long complained of social discrimination and are not free to openly practice their religion. They are also barred from holding key government and military posts.

 

Inspired by the “Arab Spring” in neighbouring countries, the large Shiite community in eastern Saudi Arabia is currently up in arms, defying an official ban on demonstrations.

 

 

Video Shiite motor bikers, published on YouTube.

“We can also use our motorcycles for noble causes”

Salah Mehdi, a 19-year-old high school student, lives in Awamya, a town in eastern Saudi Arabia. He is one of the administrators of the Facebook page which called on the motorbikers to protest.

 

On March 9, we did a lap of the town on our motorcycles, waving placards with slogans such as "free our forgotten prisoners" [referring to the 9 Shiites arrested for the 1996 attacks on the Khobar towers, who have never faced trial] or ‘Qatif, a forgotten civilization’. Information about the demonstration was passed on by word of mouth, and we have since created a Facebook page. There were about 30 of us.

 

We want to defend the Shiite community, but we also want to change attitudes towards motorbikers [who are not exactly well seen in Saudi Arabia]. We want to show that our motorcycles are not necessarily the cause of trouble and that our two wheels can also be used for noble causes.

 

Of course, the police attempted to block our way, but we changed the itinerary so that the protest could still go ahead. We hope to do the same thing next week."

 

 

Vidéo publiée sur YouTube.

Post written with France 24 journalist Sarra Grira.