In Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern province a 3-year uprising has been raging, hidden from the world. With unprecedented access, this report explores the biggest protest movement in Saudi history.
In scenes reminiscent of Libya, Egypt and Bahrain, masked protesters fill the streets, fling rocks and chant “martyrdom is better than oppression” as police bullets fly. In the Shia-dominated Eastern region of Qatif, there has been growing resentment that despite “standing on top of oil fields that feed the world”, local communities suffer poverty, sectarian discrimination and no political freedom. Figureheads of the protests have been added to government wanted lists, been arrested and several have been killed in dubious circumstances. Saudi filmmaker Safa Al Ahmad risks arrest and worse to get inside this troubled region. In secret meetings protesters share their accounts of the growing state violence against them and their families. One leader’s disabled sister tells of how security forces “came while I was sleeping and threatened me with a gun”. The movement insists it is nonetheless growing, but a few incidences of violence by protesters have alienated many locals and given the state justification for their crackdown. After protesters fire on security forces, police funerals are broadcast on public television and the rioters are officially labelled “terrorists”. Both sides are now entrenched. “It is very dangerous for the future. The state just want to show the iron fist. The only reaction is apathy or violence.”