FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Saudi Shiites’ One-Word Demand

by RANNIE AMIRI

“Our dignity is more valuable than the unity of this land … If we don’t get our dignity, then we will have to consider seceding from this country.”

– Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr, Saudi Shia religious leader from Al-Awamiya, currently in hiding after having delivered a speech demanding an end to the oppression of Saudi Shiites.

In 2005, the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report entitled “The Shiite Question in Saudi Arabia.” The Executive Summary recounted that since the establishment of Saudi Arabia in 1932, “… its minority Shiite population has been subject to discrimination and sectarian incitement.” It detailed how Shiites, the majority in the country’s oil-rich Eastern Province (EP) and accounting for approximately 15-20 percent of the overall population, remained strikingly underrepresented throughout all segments of civil society, including government (in which they essentially have no representation), the public sector, schools, the judiciary, the military and police.

The expression of anti-Shia sentiment in the educational system and limits placed on religious practices were specifically highlighted as problem areas (Shia Islam is not allowed to be taught in schools, only Wahhabism; thus Shiite students must officially identify themselves as ‘heretics’ and ‘infidels’ in order to pass exams).

The ICG made several recommendations in their report including:

expanding Shiite presence in government institutions
lifting remaining restrictions on Shiite religious rituals and practices encouraging tolerance, eliminating anti-Shiism in mosques and schools, and curbing statements that incite anti-Shiite violence

There was relative calm between the Saudi government and the Shia after King Fahd in 1993 made token promises of easing political restrictions in exchange for the community building closer ties with the regime instead of looking abroad for support and assistance.

The ICG warned though that “King Abdullah needs to act resolutely to improve the lot of the two-million strong Shiite community and rein in domestic expressions of anti-Shiite hostility” or it will be “… a quiet that, without further concrete progress, risks exhausting itself.”

And exhausted itself it has.

With little improvement made, and after the recent violent clashes in the holy city of Medina this past February between Shia pilgrims and the Religious Police (who were found filming female pilgrims), that quiet has officially ended.

Although you would not know it by reading or listening to any of the mainstream Arab media outlets, a violent crackdown is underway in the cities of Al-Awamiya and Qatif in the EP.

On March 13, Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr, a leading Shiite cleric from Awamiya, said during Friday prayers that unless the systemic discrimination and oppression of Saudi Shiites at the hands of the political and religious establishments ends, they would consider seceding from the Kingdom. In a subsequent internet posting he is reported to have said, “Our dignity is being held, and if it’s not let free, we will examine other options, and any legitimate option will be examined. We saw with our own eyes how the dissension forces beat up women [in Medina]. Where’s the dignity? Where’s the justice?” (Press TV, 22 March 2009).

Saudi Interior Minister Nayyef Ibn Abdul Aziz, visiting the ailing Crown Prince and Defense Minister, Prince Sultan in New York, immediately ordered his arrest.

Since then, events have turned ugly in both Awamiya and Qatif (where most of the pilgrims involved in the Medina skirmish came from). Despite the Arab media blackout, Saudi dissident and opposition websites such as Rasid.com and Moltaqaa.com, as well as the Saudi Information Agency, have reported on the ensuing clampdown in the hunt for Al-Nimr. By report, the cities’ residents have conducted only peaceful protests and vigils.

Multiple arrests have been made, including juveniles and an American citizen, Nuh Abdul-Jabber, 28. Saudi security forces stormed Awamiya again on March 25, cutting off power to the town of 45,000 for the third time in 10 days. The US State Dept., apparently in deference to the monarchy, has yet to comment on these developments.

Not so Amnesty International, who deplored the detention of men and teenagers by the Saudi authorities whom they believe are at grave risk for torture. Held incommunicado, they called for their immediate and unconditional release.

But why should anyone outside the Middle East be concerned about these events?

Awamiya is located just five miles from Ras Tanurah, the world’s largest offshore oil facility and home to Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company (any talk of unrest, yet alone secession, is therefore quickly silenced).

Beyond that, according basic political, socioeconomic, cultural and religious rights to all citizens of Saudi Arabia, free from discrimination and oppression, should be everyone’s concern on a purely humanitarian level. Indeed, while the entire Kingdom was silent during Israel’s attack on Gaza, it was only the people of Al-Qatif—clearly recognizing and identifying with another people subjected to injustice and humiliation—who held demonstrations in support of the besieged Palestinians.

Their demand and those of Shiites in other towns and cities in Saudi Arabia is a most basic and simple one. It is a demand the government can easily grant and one they should hasten to accept. It was written on the signs of those protesting in Awamiya, was encapsulated in a single word in Sheikh Al-Nimr’s speech, and has become the newfound rallying cry of the Shia-minority in Saudi Arabia: Dignity.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.

Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail