The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Saudi Arabia's unrest in Qatif

Here's a piece on a topic that gets scant coverage generally speaking — the wave of protests and dissidence that has hit Saudi Arabia over the last year. Jess Hill in the Global Mail:

It's all happening in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, home to most of the Kingdom's Shia minority, and 90 per cent of its oil. Seven people have been shot dead by Saudi security forces since October 2011, two in the past month alone. The Saudi Interior Ministry says these deaths resulted from gun battles between protesters and police. But in all amateur videos that show protesters being shot, there is no evidence that protesters were shooting back.

There have been remarkable scenes of rebellion. One photograph, taken on February 10 this year, shows a young man hurling an effigy of Crown Prince Nayef at a row of armoured anti-riot tanks. It's an extraordinary provocation. Prince Nayef is not only the head of the Interior Ministry - he's also the heir to the throne.

But it's not just a few people defying the Prince. On February 13, at a funeral for the most recent 'martyr', 21-year-old Zuhair al Said, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets, chanting "No Sunna, No Shia, but Islamic unity! We're not afraid, down with Nayef! You're the terrorist, you're the criminal, you're the butcher, ya Nayef!"

"We will never rest, country of oppressors! Son of Saud [royal family], hear the voice! We will never give up 'til death!" Prince Nayef responded with his own threat. On February 20, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry said these protests were the 'new terrorism', and were being 'manipulated from abroad' (read: Iran). The Ministry would confront them with 'an iron fist', he said, just like it confronted Al Qaeda.

A lot of interesting background there on Qatif, the oil rich region that is mostly Shia, and the specter of Bahrain that hangs over it (and which explains why the West rushed to support Saudi Arabia's intervention in Bahrain). A real uprising in Qatif, targeting petroleum installations, could choke Saudi production and send global oil markets spiraling out of control.

(On a tech note: mixed feelings about the side-scrolling layout on — one of the one hand it renders magazine-style articles well, but on the other hand cut-and-paste is tricky. Still, nice to see a publication think outside the box.)