By Samuel Burke & Claire Calzonetti, CNN
The Arab Spring has largely passed Saudi Arabia by. In fact, protests are banned in the Kingdom’s streets.
But in the cyber world, protests are growing, much of it happening via Twitter.
Saudis have flocked to the social network in the millions. One recent study found that Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, is one of the world's most active cities on Twitter.
Even though many protesters on social media sites have been targeted, the Saudi government mostly permits the discourse as a way to let their citizens vent their frustration. Mohammad al-Qahtani is one of Saudi Arabia's most prominent activists, working tirelessly to expose human rights abuses in his country. For this, he says, he expects to be thrown behind bars any day now.
Twitter is among the tools al-Qahtani uses to carry out his activism.
“We are having our revolution on Twitter,” al-Qahtani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday. “We are able to disseminate our own information, team up with other activists, mobilize people to act. All these kind of things, we are doing with Twitter. And to be honest with you, the regime is really antagonized about Twitter.”
Each time al-Qahtani is interrogated by Saudi authorities he says they ask him about his tweets.
Not long ago al-Qahtani, tweeted "We are prepared to pay the price, whatever it may be, for our people to obtain their rights, and Lord we are not afraid of the Saudi regime's prisons or its political executions."
But how brave is a Saudi just for participating in the Twittersphere?
“I feel very powerful with my colleagues,” al-Qahtani said, adding that he feels that his work, including his messages on Twitter could result in him losing his right to travel outside Saudi Arabia or even lose all his freedoms and end up in prison.
“Most of these things are happening to us now.” al-Qahtani told Amanpour.
For his activism, he has faced almost a dozen charges, including breaking allegiance to the Saudi King and describing Saudi Arabia as a police state.
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The charges will “most definitely” end up in a conviction, al-Qahtani believes.
“This is a politically motivated trial,” he said. “And given the fact that Saudi judiciary is not independent and could be influenced by the government, I most definitely will be convicted and will end up in prison. But the question is: for how long?”
Despite this looming fear, al-Qahtani believes that the activism is catalyzing the Saudi people.
“The pace of events is really picking up. We are no longer a silent people. We are not passive anymore. The regime is trying to portray us as passive people who live in dark ages, which is not true. Things are improving. People are now more politically aware.”
He says the government has asked the senior clerics to issue a “fatwa” (an Islamic edict) to prohibit public demonstration, though al-Qahtani doesn’t think Saudis will obey it.
Just last week in Saudi Arabia, women were photographed protesting against the continued imprisonment of their family members – people who have been taken in on various charges.
“Things will be picking up in the future, where public protests will happen. If the regime continues to be oblivious to the demand of the people, then it will happen. It's imminent. What happened in Tunisia and Libya and in Egypt could happen in Saudi Arabia.”
CNN had repeatedly requested that a Saudi government representative appear on the Amanpour program to address political reform in Saudi Arabia. Since this interview aired, the Saudi government has accepted an invitation to tentatively appear on the program in the coming weeks.
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