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The Scoop
July 11, 2012

The Arab Spring: enter Saudi Arabia

Samer Libdeh on Shi'a unrest in The Kingdom's Eastern Province

by
Samer Libdeh

By and large, with the exception of Bahrain, the Arab Gulf states have enjoyed a
stable and quiet Arab spring compared to the countries of North Africa and the
Levant. This is due to the people of these countries enjoying massive economic benefits as well as a healthy welfare system. But in the oil-rich provinces in the east of Saudi Arabia, where Shiites are the majority, the story  is increasingly becoming different.

On July 8, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, an important figure/cleric for the Muslim Shiites
in Saudi Arabia, was arrested for sedition against the monarchy in Saudi Arabia.
The arrest stirred anger among Shiites, as Al-Nimr “fell into a police trap in a
public street on his way home from his farm, his car was quickly surrounded by
police cars, gun shots fired in the air.”

The following day, the town of Al-Awameyeh witnessed Shiite protests against the
arrest. The Interior Ministry announced that there were no clashes with the
police and the incident was investigated. One source reported the deaths of two activists in the protest with three others injured, while another source put the number of dead at six.

Traditionally, as we have seen previously in Iraq and Lebanon, and now in
Bahrain – the Shiite minority has challenged the inherited discriminatory
policies of these Sunni-ruled states and managed to reach a satisfactory
position that enabled them to get further integration into the modern political
system.

If you ask me, the Shiites have had a long history of fighting injustice by the
Sunni majority under the Islamic political system. This stems from the
fact that, in the Shiite tradition, being portrayed as second class citizens is
against the revolutionary spirit of the Imam Hussein ibn Ali who fought against
‘the tyranny of the Umayad Caliph’ in the Battle of Karbala back in the year 680 CE.

Whether these protests in the east province of Saudi Arabia are getting
organized and gaining momentum at the grassroots level as in the Bahraini case
is still not clear. However, in a conservative country that prevents
international media from operating on its soil, now is the right time to
utilize various sources to keep a close eye on the changing dynamics of the
ethnic composition of the state’s Sunni-Shiite divide.

Samer Libdeh

About Samer Libdeh

Samer is an expert on the politics of the Middle East and much of his recent work focuses on the Muslim Brotherhood. He has previously worked as a Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Center for Liberty in the Middle East and at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. As a Fulbright Scholar, Samer worked as a Legislative Fellow for U.S. Congressman Joseph Crowledy (D-NY) and as a Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Full profile  |  See all of Samer Libdeh's work