Saudi Shiite protesters hold Saudi flags and portraits of unidentified Saudi Shiite prisoners during a demonstration in Qatif, Saudi Arabia
Interior warns Bedoun against Friday protests Rally surge expected in Gulf

KUWAIT CITY, March 10: The Minister of Interior, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Humoud, warned more than 100,000 stateless (Bedoun) residents on Thursday that the Ministry of Interior (MoI) will deal surely and swiftly with any protests by the population on Friday.
Al-Humoud, who is also deputy prime minister, urged the Bedoun not to hold demonstrations for the security of Kuwait. He promised them their social and civil rights within the next two weeks, as well as citizenship to deserving individuals.
“We will not handle the protests in the same manner as Tuesday’s demonstrations. Last time we gave the Bedoun a chance before we intervened, then arrested and released 100 Bedoun. The chance this time will be shorter, but we will handle the situation in the same manner and more severely. This will only be harmful to their cause in the end,” Al-Humoud said.
A group who call themselves ‘The Free Bedoun Youth’ issued and distributed a statement on Wednesday, calling for a long-standing Friday protest after prayers in the areas of Jahra, Taimia, Sulaibiya and Ahmadi. Users of the social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook, have also urged the Bedoun to protest and demand their civil and social rights.
Furthermore, security officials have detained a group of Bedoun residents after they were caught distributing flyers that incite the demonstrations. The detained were referred for investigation on charges of undermining security and stability of the country and provoking chaos and violation of the state’s laws.
Speaking to the press for the first time after Thursday’s parliamentary session, Al-Humoud added that he hopes the Bedoun will be persuaded not to protest as the matter may escalate negatively. He said that the Bedoun will receive their rights through the central agency responsible for illegal residents, headed by Dr Saleh Al-Fadhala.
Al-Hamoud promised citizenship to Bedoun who deserve the nationality, but assured that the priority will be to grant the Bedoun their basic civil rights.
“Al-Fadalah and I are working on this humanitarian case as a priority. You will witness new solutions during the next two weeks. The work is in progress and you should expect new changes, especially within the MoI as it is the most important entity in the matter,” he explained.
Members of Parliament voted on Tuesday against discussions on the case of stateless (Bedoun) residents during the first parliamentary session after a month long-break and the case of Kuwaiti unemployment was reviewed instead. MP Adel Al-Sarawwy said that “the rights of Kuwaitis come before the rights of non-Kuwaitis.”
In a statement to the press, Kuwaiti Society for the Bedoun ‘Takoun’ denounced the harsh stance of “racism and marginalization” taken by MPs against the Bedoun during Tuesday’s session.
Furthermore, Al-Fadhala had said on Tuesday that the central agency tasked with the issue of illegal residents in Kuwait has begun executing procedures, to practically and effectively solve problems pertaining to this sect of the society.
He announced that benefits will be provided according to fundamentals included in a research carried out by the agency, namely for residents of Kuwait since 1965 or before, siblings of Kuwaiti mothers, and military personnel.
Meanwhile, the Interior Minister spoke on the alleged threats by MoI officials on users of microblogging site, Twitter. Sheikh Ahmed Al-Humoud guaranteed that he will allow users the freedom of opinion and protest peacefully, provided the users do not direct any unjustified accusations against MoI entities.
“The MoI is not above the law, and I will not accept any official within it to threaten any citizen. If there are proofs of these threats, I am ready to intervene and hold those responsible accountable. If the officials are innocent, however, I will fight for them,” he stressed.
Affirming that he will rearrange matters within his ministry to improve its performance, Al-Humoud also announced that he had asked the Cabinet to form an independent committee from Fatwa and Legislation Department to investigate any alleged irregularities in the Interior Ministry.
On his part, MP Shuaib Al-Muwaizri urged the MoI to deal calmly with Bedoun protests on Friday. He said that it is natural for Bedoun to protest peacefully and express their demands.
“Whoever tries to be violent, however, or violate the law, the MoI must not be forgiving in that case as this will harm the security of Kuwait. We refuse any compromises on the files of citizenship. We will stand by whoever deserves citizenship, but we request those who do not deserve the nationality to stop demanding what they do not deserve,” he said.
Arab uprisings that have 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.
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.
Protests are planned in other Gulf countries such as Yemen, Kuwait and Bahrain on Friday, the region’s weekend. The time after Friday prayers has proved to be crucial in popular uprisings that have brought down Tunisian and Egyptian rulers who once seemed invulnerable.
Saudi Arabia, the largest country in the Gulf, is home to Islam’s holiest sites and 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 on Friday.
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.
“There is no fear but much anticipation. I don’t necessarily think much will happen tomorrow, but the most important thing is that an idea has appeared,” said former Saudi judge Abdelaziz al-Gassem, adding small numbers could set off a chain reaction.
“(Gulf rulers) are deluded in thinking they can ignore the demands,” he said. “They are facing their biggest test ever, bigger than al-Qaeda — the people demanding justice, equality, the rule of law, supervision of government. This cannot be dealt with through violence.”
Saudi Arabia has tried to present itself over the years as immune to the kind of activism now sweeping the Arab world. But al-Gassem, a campaigner for reforms, said these arguments were “nonsense”.
Minority Shiites in the Eastern Province near Bahrain have already held small protests over the past three weeks and clerics are trying to dissuade Sunnis in the major cities from joining in by branding the demonstrations a Shiite phenomenon.
“Secret Shiite hands want to corrup t this country,” messages sent to mobile phones this week said.
“What the regime is worried about is setting a precedent for protests, that when people have problems they’re going to feel more comfortable and more willing to take to the streets,” said Shadi Hamid, an analyst with the Brookings Institute in Qatar.
Washington — which has buttressed the Gulf dynasties as a counterbalance to Iran — raised the stakes in comments this week calling peaceful assembly a universal right that must be respected even in a country that claims unique status as an Islamic state like Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal slammed “foreign intervention” in a press conference on Wednesday that seemed to highlight the problems facing a family that monopolises political life in a country named after them.
“The called-for reform does not come via protests and (the clerics) have forbidden protests since they violate the Holy Quran and the way of the Prophet (PBUH),” said Prince Saud, who has occupied the foreign minister portfolio since 1975.
The protest movements hit populous Yemen a month ago and spread to the Gulf states where dynasties who secured their rule in colonial times and have bought their people’s acquiescence by dispensing petrodollars.
Bahrain has been the most vulnerable. Majority Shiites who resent domination by the al-Khalifa dynasty have staged pro-democracy protests and analysts say Saudi pressure has been heavy on Manama to stamp them out.
This week hardline Shiite groups formed an alliance to ditch the monarchy and turn Bahrain — an island state whose rulers look to Riyadh for support — into a republic.
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 reforms on Thursday.
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.
Several Gulf rulers seem to hope more money will solve their problems.
Saudi King Abdullah has vowed to distribute some $37 billion in handouts to students, the unemployed and other low-income Saudis via a series of pay bonuses and benefits announced as he returned in February after a three-month absence for medical treatment.
The more affluent Gulf states are looking at a package worth billions of dollars to help poorer Gulf countries Bahrain and Oman.
“For most of us, it’s not about money, it’s about having a share in our government,” said Mohammed al-Mansoori, a rights activist in the United Arab Emirates. “In other places people have dignity, here, people don’t.”  

 


By: Nihal Sharaf

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