January 17, 2007

NOT A CLUSTER THEY COULD AFFORD TO LOSE, IS IT?:

Saudi Arabia casts wary eye on its Shiites: With a Sunni-Shiite cold war descending on the Middle East, Saudi Arabia appears to be hardening its sectarian battle lines (Michael B. Farrell, 1/18/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

[M]any worry that their steady progress is being checked. With a Sunni-Shiite cold war descending on the region, Saudi Arabia appears to be hardening its sectarian battle lines. That, experts say, could mean that it once again will regard its Shiite minority, mainly clustered in eastern oases like this one, solely as enemies of the state. [...]

Shiites make up about 10 to 15 percent of the country's roughly 16 million nationals, according to a 2005 International Crisis Group (ICG) report. Most live in the Eastern Province, where oil was first discovered and which remains the base for much of the petroleum industry. While they have been persecuted since Saudi Arabia's formation in 1932, it wasn't until their coreligionists in Iran overthrew the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, that Shiites were emboldened to challenge the Saudi monarch.


There's a good bit in Lawrence Wright's Looming Tower, where the Sa'uds realize -- after their first official census -- just how few Arabs there actually are in their kingdom, so they just double the number. Ever since the figures have apparently been mostly made up. Given the likelihood that they radically underestimate their own internal cohort and the help that might come from Iraq and Iran, would anyone be surprised if the Sa'uds came out on the short end of a showdown with the Shi'a?


Posted by Orrin Judd at January 17, 2007 9:35 PM
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