August 11, 2017


Is Saudi Arabia waging war on its Shiite minority? (Deutsche-Welle, 8/11/17)

Largely ignored by the rest of the world, heavy fighting has been going on in the tiny city of Awamiya in eastern Saudi Arabia for three months: Satellite images show that entire sections of the city have been destroyed. Images of firefights and flattened buildings are making the rounds on social media. Independent reporting is not possible because the government has denied foreign journalists access to the area.

The center of the fighting appears to be Al-Masora, the city's old quarter. Militant Shiites are engaged in firefights with Saudi security forces there, in the neighborhood's narrow alleys. Heavy artillery is being used in the fighting and at least 15 people are said to have been killed so far. After images of Canadian-made armored vehicles being deployed against civilians became public, Ottawa reportedly began considering a halt of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The conflict arose in part from Saudi plans to demolish areas of the historic city in order to build a new shopping mall - something that the city's residents strongly opposed. In April, the United Nations called for Saudi Arabia to halt forced relocations and the demolition of the old quarter. UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, fears "the planned demolition would erase this unique regional heritage in an irreversible manner." [...]

Repression and marginalization are the deeper roots of the conflict. Some 10 percent of Saudi Arabia's 30 million citizens are Shiites. They mostly live in the east of the country - where much of its oil is located. But Shiites have profited little from the country's wealth, and they have been denied access to participation in political life in the kingdom. They are also put under increased pressure by the fact that the majority of Saudis are adherents of Wahhabism - and therefore view Shiites as apostates.

Minority Shiites last voiced their strong displeasure with the government during the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. Awamiya became a center of protest - especially after the revolt of the Shia minority in neighboring Bahrain was crushed by its Sunni king, with military help from Saudi Arabia. Awamiya was also the home of Nimr al-Nimr, a popular Shiite sheikh who became a figurehead during protests in eastern Saudi Arabia. Al-Nimr paid for the stand he made against the discrimination of Shiites with his life when he was executed, supposedly for being a terrorist, in early 2016.

Posted by at August 11, 2017 9:30 AM