Several hundred protested on March 4 in the Shi’ite-majority east of Saudi Arabia, calling for the release of an arrested cleric and other detainees—a first in the authoritarian kingdom. An appeal was made on Facebook for a “Day of Rage” on Friday to demand release of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Aamer, a Shi’ite cleric arrested on Feb. 27. Protests were reported in the towns of al-Houfouf and al-Qatif, both in al-Ihsaa governorate of Eastern Province. The march in al-Qatif was dispersed by security forces. Amer was arrested after calling for a “constitutional monarchy” in the Sunni-dominated kingdom. Some 10,000 security personnel are being mobilized to the northeastern provinces, clogging the highways with busloads of troops to put down what is being called the “Hunayn Revolution”—after a 630 CE battle in which the Prophet Mohammed defeated a Bedouin army. (The Independent, March 5; AFP, March 4; Middle East Online, March 3)
Also March 4, soldiers in Yemen killed at least four and wounded seven others when they fired on an anti-regime rally at Semla village, in the northern province of Amra. A higher death toll was reported on the website of the region’s Shi’ite rebels, Almenpar.net, which said the government troops “killed and wounded dozens.” (Middle East Online, March 4)
Thousands marched that day in Amman, Jordan, to demand “regime reforms”—a day after Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit rejected calls for a constitutional monarchy. Protesters carried national flags and banners reading: “We need bread and freedom,” “Down with the bullying policy,” and “Together let’s dissolve parliament.” (Middle East Online, March 4)
Protests at the state security building in Alexandria, Egypt, led to violent clashes between demonstrators and security officers who fired on them. Some 1,500 people stormed the building, seizing control of the first floor, destroying furniture and equipment. (International Business Times, March 4)
A peaceful crowd meanwhile crowd gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to cheer the country’s newly appointed prime minister. “I draw my legitimacy from you,” Essam Sharaf told the demonstrators, who greeted him with a deafening roar and later carried him off on their shoulders. Sharaf was appointed by the ruling military council to replace Ahmed Shafiq, who had been chosen by president Hosni Mubarak just days before his regime fell. (Washington Post, March 4)
A popular referendum on constitutional changes in Egypt has been tentatively set for March 19. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has formed a committee to oversee the constitutional reform, headed by respected scholar Tarek al-Bishri. A key issue will be a limit of two presidential terms, which will be reduced to four years. Under the suspended constitution, a president can serve an unlimited number of six-year terms. Changes will also be made to the controversial Article 76, to ease restrictions on presidential candidates; to Article 88 on judicial supervision of elections; and to Article 93, which governs appeals against official results of legislative elections. Changes will also be made to Article 189, which currently allows only the president and the speaker of parliament to call for constitutional amendments. Article 179, which gives the president the right to order a military trial for civilians, will be removed. (Middle East Online, March 4)
See our last posts on new Arab revolutions.