Saudi Arabia 'Day of Rage' begins quietly, markets watch protests closely

Motivated by recent shows of political strength by neighbors in Egypt, people in the Middle East and North Africa are taking to the streets of many cities to rally for change.
Compiled by Ian Saleh
Washington Post Staff
Friday, March 11, 2011; 12:56 PM

Saudi Arabia's 'Day of Rage' did not seem to have brought many protesters into the streets, and reports of violence were sporadic. As Michael Birnbaum reported:

The "Day of Rage" planned by critics of the Saudi Arabian government may have turned into a day of rest on Friday, with quiet streets in the eastern city of Qatif one day after police fired on protesters there, and peaceful demonstrations outside the town.

Witnesses reported a heavy police presence in Riyadh, the country's capital, but no protests. One witness said hundreds marched in Al-Ahsa, in the southern part of the country's largely Shiite Eastern Province, and several protesters were arrested, but that there was no violence. Another witness said that marches took place in two towns outside Qatif in the late afternoon without incident.

Protesters have called for increased democracy in the country that has been ruled by the al-Saud family since they united it by conquest almost 80 years ago. The royal family and the majority of the country's population are Sunni Muslims, and Shiite Muslims in the Eastern Province have called for an end to what they say is government discrimination against them that prevents them from holding many public positions and restricts their public services.

Global markets are observing the events in the Middle East carefully, especially those in Saudi Arabia. As Neil Irwin explained:

Turmoil in the Arab world, meanwhile, continues to pose perhaps the most dangerous threat to the world economy. The price of oil fell Thursday, with West Texas Intermediate Crude falling $1.68 to $102.70 on signs of slower growth in China.

However, there were more reminders of political instability in the Middle East, including media reports of shots fired at a protest in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter. Any disruption of the Saudi supply could spark a steep rise in oil prices, analysts said.

President Obama is scheduled to discuss rising energy prices at a news conference Friday morning.

Despite the risks, many analysts remain generally optimistic. "There is a steady global expansion underway," said McDonald, of Northern Trust. "These things tend to be pretty durable."

Saudi police fired on protesters in the town of Qatif on Thursday, which may have affected protests on Friday. As Michael Birnbaum reported:

Three people were injured when police opened fire during a protest in eastern Saudi Arabia on Thursday, according to a witness and a Saudi official.

The witness, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals by authorities, said police at first fired over protesters' heads but then began shooting directly at them during a march in central Qatif, a predominantly Shiite town in oil-rich Eastern Province.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said police fired over the heads of protesters after demonstrators attacked them, the Reuters news agency reported. He did not say how the injuries were caused but said one of those hurt was a policeman.

At the time of the shooting, "the police were maybe 50 meters away" from the protesters, who were calling for the release of prisoners, the witness said. It was not immediately clear whether the bullets were live or rubber.

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