By Arab News
By Muhammad Al-Sulaimi, Siraj Wahab and MD. Rasooldeen
It was a normal Friday yesterday across the Kingdom despite worries that the calls on Internet social sites for a “Day of Rage” might be heeded.
“There was nothing of the sort,” security spokesman of the Interior Ministry Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki told Arab News four hours after the Friday prayers. There were no demonstrations anywhere in the Kingdom, he said.
People were wary after reports of the incidents that marred protests in Qatif on Thursday, leaving three people injured.
But Riyadh, Jeddah and other cities were quiet for a Friday that saw pleasant weather, although there was a strong police presence. In both Riyadh and Jeddah, police helicopters were briefly in evidence.
Al-Turki refuted agency reports that demonstrators had been fired at in Qatif on Thursday. “It is totally untrue. What actually happened was that the police had to fire shots in the air to control an emerging situation by a very small number of protesters who snatched a video camera being used by a policeman to document a shooting incident. This was believed to have come from the center of the small crowd,” he said. Al-Turki was not certain if the protesters returned the camera.
In Allegiance Square (Al-Baia), downtown Jeddah near the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which had been one of the sites specified by the “propagators of sedition” as a location for the protests, the “Day of Rage” was nowhere to be seen before and after Friday prayer. There was no intensified security presence either.
Later in the day, during Arab News’ tour of the city, it found the Al-Baia in Balad district closed and a sizable number of police present in nearby streets. But they all disappeared by dusk. A police officer said the square had re-opened after Maghreb prayers.
Young Saudis could be seen driving their cars carrying messages of support and loyalty to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah and pictures of him.
“I plastered photos of the king all over my car. It cost me SR650. I just wanted to send a message to those who called for demonstrations,” said 30-year-old schoolteacher Abdullah Al-Baqami. “We love our country and our king. You will not make us alter our love for our country and our king by what you say,” he wrote on his vehicle. Al-Baqami said he intended to park his car the next day in front of the school where he is teaching so that the students could read the message.
The king’s photo was posted in the window of a shop in Jeddah selling car accessories by Faisal Al-Marashi, a 22-year-old student at King Abdul Aziz University. “Our love for our country and our government isn’t new. We inherited that from our forefathers who vowed allegiance to King Abdul Aziz,” he told Arab News.
Social networking site Facebook also carried postings of Saudis who were opposed to the protest plans. Their number took up more than 30 pages and they exchanged congratulations on Friday’s protest turning out to be a non-event.
The unprecedented rallying of the Saudis behind their king took the world by surprise, a Facebook post said. One blogger praised citizens of Jeddah for not making even the slightest move to protest.
Meanwhile, towns and cities across the Eastern Province were also quiet and activity somewhat subdued as many people chose to stay home. In Qatif, where there was a small protest Thursday night, town elders urged people to stay off the streets and most appeared to heed that advice. One Qatif activist said he heard there was a protest in Hofuf some 130 km south, but Arab News could not get any independent confirmation of this.
On Friday, mosques were full for noon payers. Two hours later, at around 1:30 p.m. Arab News visited the city and found streets and alleyways empty. Restaurants and gas stations were open, but there were few customers. There were not many vehicles on the streets. At least one helicopter flew overhead, though there were far fewer men in uniform. Qatif was quiet, which is generally not the case on a typical Friday afternoon.
When Arab News spoke to one resident about not seeing many people on the streets, he was not surprised.
“What do you expect to see on a Friday afternoon at 2? People are resting at home after saying their prayers,” he said. “Everything is fine – no protests, nothing.”
A group of expatriates at a gas station close to Qatif Plaza mall seemed nervous. They said it was abnormally quiet for a weekend.
A little farther from Qatif, a small zoo was almost empty with just two families visiting.
“Yesterday was particularly bad. We had no visitors, which is highly unusual,” one of the zoo staff said.
“We usually have hundreds of families and children packing this place on Thursday and Friday. Reports of trouble in the area have kept people away.”
Some expatriates remained home on Friday. “We were told by our company managers to avoid going out, and that is what we did,” said John Sebastian, a sales engineer at an Alkhobar-based ticketing agency. “We were mostly watching television and remained glued to it after dramatic images began appearing of the tsunami in Japan.”
Other people decided not to worry about anything and just enjoy the weather. “You media people are the ones to create all this hullabaloo,” said Pakistani businessman Munnawar Azeem Chaudhry, who took his wife and three daughters to the Dammam Corniche.
“Look for yourself. Everyone is having a ball,” he said pointing to an Egyptian family barbecuing kebabs over hot coals.
Congregations dispersed peacefully after Juma prayers in Riyadh mosques.
Security was visibly tight. In Olaya Street, between Faisaliah Tower and the Kingdom Tower, there were more than 20 patrol cars.
The traffic was thinner than usual with people preferring to stay home after prayers. However, supermarkets saw regular custom and even roadside fruit and vegetable vendors in front of mosques enjoyed brisk business.
Saudi Arabia had announced on Saturday that it would not allow any demonstrations in the country that are aimed at undermining the Kingdom’s security and stability.
“Laws and regulations in the Kingdom totally prohibit all kinds of demonstrations, marches and sit-in protests as well as calling for them as they go against the principles of Shariah and Saudi customs and traditions,” the Interior Ministry had said in a statement.
The Shoura Council and Board of Islamic Scholars also severely condemned any form of protests against the leadership describing it as an action against the tenets of Islam. Jumma sermons in Riyadh mostly focused on finding solutions through dialogue as the only way advocated by Islam.
The imam at a mosque in Malaz district said that the Kingdom’s foundation is based on the book of Allah and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
“We cannot be dictated by the democratic policies advocated by Western countries,” the imam said.
Addressing the country’s youth, the imam at Al-Rowaidah Mosque called them the backbone of the community. “We are well aware of their needs and aspirations,” he said, stressing that youth must be able to differentiate good from bad for the greater good of the nation.
On Thursday, football fans made plain their allegiance at the match between Al-Nasr and Al-Hilal in Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium. They raised the photos of the king and waved the Saudi flag. Football fans in Makkah and Madinah made the same show of support. One banner held up by the fans read: “We do not deserve to live in a country that we are unable to protect.”
A senior diplomat, who performed his Friday prayers at a mosque in the capital’s Diplomatic Quarter told Arab News that everything went on as usual. He said that he had driven around the city following prayers and the only thing he noticed that was different was that security arrangements had been beefed up in some areas.