Saudi Women Lead Student Protests in Rare Act of Valor


This week, ongoing student protests broke out in Abha, in the Southwest of Saudi Arabia, and in a rare show of defiance of authority, females led the first protests followed by the male students at King Khaled University on Saturday.

Do these protests signal something more about to happen in Saudi Arabia?

The female students were moved to protest because the university decided to stop all cleaning services, saying the 'students needed to take better care of their campus.' Protesters also rallied against perceived corruption on the part of the part of the university president, Abdullah Alrashied, and his failed leadership. Photos posted on the internet by some of the girls and picked up by a local paper showed the state of the campus once cleaning services stopped.

The female students started their protest on Tuesday, but the mood had changed by Wednesday, when campus security were alleged to have roughly treated several students when trying to disperse the nearly 1,000 girls who had gathered. In response, the university called in the Haia, the religious police, to quell protests, at which point students threw shoes at them. The Haia responded by hitting many of the students with batons, resulting in the death of one girl from an epileptic fit; another is reported to have suffered a miscarriage as a result of the crackdown. Another 50 girls received injuries during the scuffle.  

The seperate male university held its own protests on Saturday following the crackdown on the female students. The local governor, Prince Faisal bin Khaled, threatened that 'We will not be lenient with anyone, whoever may it be, who play with the security of the country.' Despite these warnings, men went ahead with their protests with more success than their female counterparts. Their protest ended quietly after the governor spoke to the students and promised to allow 20 of them to meet with him as well as possibly firing some of the university staff. 

This sort of public protest is rare in Saudi Arabia, a country which has not seen protests on the same scale as the rest of the Arab world in the past year. The only place where there have been demonstrations is Qatif in the Eastern province, mainly Shia protesters have asked for more political freedoms, the release of political prisoners, and governmental reform over the past year.

That these latest protests were started by female students make them even more unusual.

Whether or not any more protests like these occur, they might signal a change in thought, as young Saudis realize that their desire for change might be greater than their fear of authority.

Photo Credit: Anonymous User