By Jody McIntyre
It is strange to read in the news that the Saudi monarchy has “banned” demonstrations; as if such demonstrations were allowed in the first place. Nevertheless, small protests in the east of Saudi Arabia do signal a change. With March 11th being ear-marked as a ‘day of rage’, thousands of security forces are being sent to the region to suppress any potential uprising.
The focus has shifted away from Egypt since the fall of ex-President Hosni Mubarak, but, from yesterday’s events, it is clear that his toppling was only the beginning of an Egyptian revolution. On Saturday, Egyptian activists stormed state security buildings in Cairo and Alexandria, including the secret police’s main headquarters in northern Cairo’s Nasr City neighbourhood, in a bid to recover documents detailing torture, interrogation and human rights abuses of all manners under thirty years of the Mubarak regime.
The people in Egypt have lost their fear. The army tried to get them to leave the buildings, but did not use force; they know that a change has happened in their country, and they cannot suppress the people’s will any longer.
But the protests also show how much work is still to be done. The overthrowing of Mubarak was a huge victory, not only for Egyptians, but for people across the Arab world; but what comes next?
We should take inspiration from the determination and directness of the Egyptian demonstrators. They protested for hours outside the headquarters for hours, before taking matters into their own hands and storming the building. They found huge bags full of shredded documents; evidence of an attempted cover-up by the remnants of the regime.
Mubarak’s fall must set a precedent, not count as an exception. All sections of the regime guilty of committing crimes must be brought to justice. And the Egyptian activists must send a message to regimes across the region; you will not get away with oppressing us, the people, forever.
It will be extremely interesting to see how events develop in Saudi Arabia later in the week. It will also be interesting to see if the US and Britain take the Mubarak-Gaddafi-Ben Ali line in the case of Saudi; disposing of friendly dictators once they pass their sell-by date, or if they make a little more effort in supporting their number one ally.
It is difficult to be optimistic, especially when the Saudi monarchy can fall back on handing out $37 billion in “benefits” to citizens in an attempt to appease unrest, but then again, I would not have imagined seeing a day when the headquarters of the secret police in Cairo were taken over by ordinary people. Stranger things have happened.