from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Shia Unrest in Saudi Arabia

July 13, 2012

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Though there is not much Western reporting yet on this phenomenon, Shia unrest in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province appears to be growing.

Two recent reports, including interesting amateur films of demonstrations and some violence, can be found in this Arab web site and buried in the New York Times here. The key question is whether the unrest is over or will spread among Saudi Shia.

The proximate cause of the unrest is clear: Saudi security forces shot and wounded, while arresting, Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr last week after he called the death of the late Minister of the Interior and Crown Prince, Nayef, a cause for celebration. The deeper cause is Shia unhappiness with what they view as discrimination and indeed repression by the Saudi authorities.

This violence will have repercussions in Bahrain. Whether or not it leads to more protests by Bahraini Shia, it will likely lead the Saudis to press the Bahraini government for more repressive measures rather than more compromise. The Saudi royal family’s harsh reaction to Nimr’s comments was predictable, and his comments were foolish and dangerous. Still, in the long run Shia complaints about second-class citizenship in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia cannot be successfully dealt with by arrests and repression. Compromise will have to come or more violence will. But moderates in both countries face not only the inherent difficulties of negotiating such compromises; they also face extremists, Sunni and Shia, who think they benefit from confrontations and who reject compromise.

It will be 115 degrees today in Qatif. Hot summer indeed.

More on:

Middle East and North Africa

Saudi Arabia

Human Rights

Politics and Government

Bahrain

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