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Saudi students continue protests despite violent crackdown

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Julie Tomlin
WVoN co-editor

Thousands of young Saudi women staged a second protest at a university after a violent crackdown by security forces on a demonstration last week.

The protests at the all-women King Khalid university in the southern town of Abha started when the university cancelled cleaning services, saying students needed to take better care of their campus, Reuters reported.

When the rubbish began to smell on Wednesday, the students boycotted classes to express their anger at the conditions at the university and at wider discrimination.

Protests are banned in the Kingdom and one woman was reported to have been killed and 50 injured when the security forces and religious police moved in to break it up. The violence has prompted an investigation, according to the BBC.

On Saturday students at the university again took part in protests, as did fellow students on the male campus.

Protests in Saudi Arabia are rare because of the ban, but there have been several at Saudi universities, or involving recent female graduates over the past year focusing mainly on the way that education is biased against them.

They have been taking place as women across the country have been challenging traditional attitudes towards women.

The high-profile Women2Drive campaign (see WVoN stories) went underground as a result of a government crackdown but has recently made a comeback after apparently winning concessions from the religious authorities.

Professor of anthropology of religion at King’s College University, Madawi Al-Rasheed, said on the BBC World Service on Monday that although the ‘Arab Spring’ had not reached Saudi Arabia it has seen “much more mobilisation” in the past year than it has in the past:

“The mobilisation that has taken place centres on specific issues, such as women’s rights or land confiscation,” she said, adding that the Saudi dictatorship had succeeded in fragmenting the population.

Trades unions, student unions and women’s organisations are currently banned in the country.

People are very active on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter but they are mostly used to mobilise people on single issues and don’t link up with other groups, Al-Rasheed said.

The protest by the female students, the decision by male students to join them and calls for protests at other universities are a sign of change, Al-Rasheed argued:

“I see change in Saudi Arabia coming from the inside,” she said.

“They have watched the Arab Spring continuously for over 18 months now and at the moment they experimenting with peaceful demonstrations and new forms of mobilisation.”

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