WASHINGTON: Saudis have a right to protest peacefully, the United States (US) said on Monday after Saudi Arabia reminded its citizens that demonstrations were banned in the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter.
Inspired by protests in other Arab countries, there have been Shi’ite marches in the past few days in the east of Saudi Arabia as well as Facebook calls for two more protests this month, the first on Friday.
“The United States supports a set of universal rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression,” State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters at his daily briefing.
“Those rights must be respected everywhere, including Saudi Arabia,” he added.
While the US ally has by no means faced protests of the scale that toppled veteran authoritarian leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, dissent has built up as unrest has spread in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Libya and Oman.
The Saudi interior ministry on Saturday issued a statement saying that security forces would stop all attempts to disrupt public order and noting that “the kingdom’s regulations totally ban all sorts of demonstrations, marches, sit-ins.”
Crowley said the United States had regularly conveyed its belief in civil liberties to Saudi Arabia but did not know if it had done so since the ministry’s weekend statement.