Saudis terrified as Iraq fell to Shiites.
[Visit to the White House by powerful Shiite leader makes the Saudi royal family affraid that Iraq is falling to Iran.]
Saudis Nervously Watch al-Hakim's U.S. Visit - NPR
Saudi Ambassador Signals Rift in Royal Family
Gates, Saudi King Meet at Airport - NPR
Saudi King Warns Iran to Stay Out of Iraq - NPR
Saudi warns 'interfering' Iran - Al Jazeera
With Shiites rising across the region, Saudi Arabia's grow impatient - CSM
National Public Radio
Saudis Nervously Watch al-Hakim's U.S. Visit
December 3, 2006
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's visit to Washington, D.C., may raise concerns for one of Iraq's neighbors, Saudi Arabia. Analyst Youssef Ibrahim talks with Debbie Elliott about what some are calling a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is currently playing out on Iraqi soil.
Saudis have been anxious and upset about the ascendancy of Shiite structure in Iraq, having already been upset for the last 20 years about an ascendant and very activist Shiite regime in Iran. And the reason for this, of course, is that they have a lot of Shiites in Saudi Arabia and they have them specifically in the oil producing regions.
Iraq is now becoming a proxy battleground between the competing Saudi and Iranian interests. We know from intelligence reports and from several contacts in the region that the Jordanians are helping the Sunnis in there and eventually the Egyptians will be involved.
Jordanians have actually been helping Sunnis in Iraq, and just this past week an advisor to the Saudi government had a piece in the Washington Post saying that Saudi Arabia might be stepping in and supporting Sunnis should the United States pull out.
They have joint borders, and in fact the Kuwaitis are doing the same thing as well. And it's not only weapons. Mostly so far it's really been money and insurgent connections and smuggling of people.
Saudi Ambassador Signals Rift in Royal Family
January 10, 2007
There is a large and public rift between two key players in the Saudi royal family. Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal abruptly resigned his post as Saudi ambassador to the United States, reportedly out of anger that his predecessor, Prince Bandar, was making not-so-secret visits to administration officials in Washington.
It is widely known that there is a rivalry between the two men, who come from two different lines of the royal family. But the recent developments could signal something much deeper than that: a disagreement about how to handle the situation in Iraq and the way to address Iran's rising power.
Meanwhile, a non-royal, Adel al-Jubeir has been appointed the new Saudi ambassador to the U.S. He is considered to have a very close relationship with both King Abdullah and Prince Bandar.
Gates, Saudi King Meet at Airport
January 17, 2007
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mets briefly with Saudi Arabian King Abdullah at the Jiddah Airport. There are significant differences of opinion with the Saudis in how to achieve stability in Iraq. Saudis, who are Sunni Muslims, are looking at Iraq, with this ascendant Shiite Muslim political class, and they're worried because behind it all, they see the influence of Iran.
Saudi King Warns Iran to Stay Out of Iraq
January 29, 2007
In a rare comment over the weekend, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned that Iran is not only interfering in Iraqi affairs, but is attempting to spread Shiite Islam in the majority-Sunni Middle East.
The Saudi king told a Kuwaiti newspaper that he warned an Iranian envoy that Iran's actions were endangering the Gulf.
As the defender of the Sunni faith in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia is increasingly concerned about the spiraling sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, and about Iran's efforts to flex its political muscle in the region.
But unlike the Americans, the Saudis are talking to Tehran.
AL JAZEERA - January 28, 2007
Saudi warns 'interfering' Iran
Saudi Arabia's king has said Iran is putting the Gulf region in danger and has advised Tehran leaders to know "their limits".
In an interview published in Kuwait's al-Seyassah newspaper on Saturday, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud said attempts by Iran to spread Shia beliefs in Sunni communities would fail.
King Abdullah said: "Saudi leaders and the Saudi state have always known their limits in dealing with nations, east and west. I explained this to Ali Larijani [Iran's nuclear negotiator] and advised him to pass it on to his government and its followers, with regard to foreign dealings."
King Abdullah also said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be solved by "Arabs alone".
"We don't want anyone to trade in our issues and become stronger through them," he said.
Larijani visited Riyadh this month to seek help with Washington and reassure Saudi Arabia over Iran's nuclear programme.
The US, which sees Saudi Arabia as an important ally in the region, has accused Iran of intending to make a nuclear weapon. A charge Iran denies.
The US also says Iran is "interfering" in Iraq by backing Shia military groups in the country and criticises Tehran for backing Lebanon's Hezbollah, a Shia group which is leading a move to topple Lebanon's government.
Iran is known to support Hamas, the ruling Palestinian party and a largely Sunni organisation.
Hamas has refused to recognise Israel and has been shunned by Western governments.
Christian Science Monitor - April 27, 2009
With Shiites rising across the region, Saudi Arabia's grow impatient
Older leaders among the minority aim to peacefully address discrimination but warn that younger Shiites are pushing for militancy.
Awwamiya, Saudi Arabia.
Despite the vast oil fields underfoot, this rural village of struggling farmers and narrow streets is a long way from the gleaming riches and wide boulevards of Riyadh.
It is also far from the strict Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam favored by the Saudi government, since most Awwamiya residents are Shiite Muslims.
These religious and economic realities help explain the graffiti on view here: "Death to Wahhabi," "Down with the government," and "We will not forget our prisoners."
Somewhere here, too, Sheikh Nimer Al-Nimer, a firebrand Shiite cleric in his late 40s, is hiding from police. He is wanted for questioning, officials say, about an angry sermon threatening secession and his possible behind-the-scenes role in Sunni-Shiite clashes in the holy city of Medina earlier this year.
"We've been patient a long time hoping to get our rights," says one Awwamiya resident. "But it's useless."
Recent developments in Medina and Awwamiya reflect deepening frustration among Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority at continuing discrimination in jobs and schools as well as government tolerance for hateful anti-Shiite rhetoric from Wahhabi clerics, according to more than a dozen Shiite activists, writers, and clerics interviewed in the oil-rich Eastern Province.
Shiite leaders also warn of rising militancy in a younger generation that is losing faith in the older leadership's approach of working peacefully for change.
"The problem now we are facing ... is that we are trying to convince those guys that, 'OK, slow down; there are things we are trying to do for you,' " says Sheikh Hussain Al Bayat, a Shiite cleric in Qatif.
"But they would like to see something fast. And that's what we are trying to tell [government] leaders: That we are now in control of these people ... but there will be a time they will override us."
Shiites rising – but not here
This impatience comes at a time of ascendant Shiite power in the Arab world. In Iraq, Shiites have replaced centuries-long Sunni minority rule. Bahrain's majority Shiite population is challenging its Sunni government. And Saudi Arabia's regional rival, Shiite Iran, is aggressively projecting its influence into Arab affairs, particularly in Lebanon and Gaza.
These developments have heightened age-old Shiite-Sunni tensions. After a disagreement in Islam's infancy over choosing the prophet Muhammad's successor – Shiites favored family succession, not community consensus – Sunnis emerged dominant. Today they constitute an overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide, while Shiites make up only 10 to 15 percent.
Nowadays, the Saudi government is increasingly sensitive to dissent from its Shiite minority, which accounts for around 10 percent of the population. But Shiite leaders say it is local problems – not outside events – that drive Shiite frustration.
"The feeling that they are discriminated against is very deep inside themselves," says Jafaar Al Shayeb, a Shiite member of Qatif's municipal council.
Fifteen years ago, the Saudi government invited exiled Shiite dissidents home. Initial negotiations brought improvements. Shiites now publicly celebrate their holiest religious holiday, Ashura, commemorating the martyrdom in Iraq of their 7th-century saint – Imam Hussein – at the hands of a Sunni army. And the government is slowly giving permission to build Shiite mosques.
Shiites get business licenses and obtain government scholarships to study abroad. Their religious books are easily obtained from street vendors. And personal relations with Sunni co-workers are good, many Shiites say.
Discrimination of a minority
However, Shiites face difficulties getting hired for government jobs and are routinely passed over for promotions. All top positions in the municipality of Qatif – a nearly 100 percent Shiite city – are held by Sunnis. No Shiite ambassadors represent the kingdom abroad.
The community was especially disappointed when King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz failed to appoint any Shiites to top positions in his February cabinet reshuffle, although he did name five Shiites to the 150-member advisory Shura Council.
Sheikh Al-Bayat also noted that while boys' schools in mostly Shiite areas have Shiite principals, that is not the case with girls' schools. Also, Shiites assert that all religion teachers in government schools are Sunnis.
Naseema Dawood Assadh, a housewife in Safwa who helps run training programs for young mothers, said her son was told by his Sunni teacher that he was "not a Muslim because you visit graves and that's not a Muslim belief." Sunni teachers, she added, sometimes "try to change children's beliefs."
Qatif resident Hussain Alak, a writer and human resources officer in a private firm, compared the condition of Saudi Shiites to that of African-Americans before the civil rights movement. When he spoke with some black Americans on a recent trip to the United States, he said, "we really felt we are listening to Shias."
While blacks were fighting for their rights in the 1960s, Sayyid Hassan Al-Nemer was growing up as a Shiite boy in Saudi Arabia. Now a cleric in Dammam, he says he has seen many changes since then, but more are needed.
"It is the right of the majority to take [control of] the government, but they should take care of the minority," says Mr. Nemer. "The solution is to open the country, give freedom for political action, and accept others as they are.... There has to be a minimum of democracy."
Sheikh threatens to secede
The frustrations of Shiites here in Eastern Province bubbled up several months ago after three days of clashes between the government and Shiites in Medina, Islam's second-holiest city.
The government says the clashes were set off by Shiites defying regulations at the city's ancient Muslim cemetery. Those regulations bar women from entering, and ban collecting soil or sand from the burial site. They are enforced by religious police, whose Wahhabi beliefs regard some Shiite practices as heretical.
Of the 71 people briefly detained, 22 were Sunni and 49 Shiite, says a government source who declined to be named.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Gen. Mansour Al Turki said in a recent Monitor interview that the government prohibits certain religious practices in Medina and Mecca in order not to offend the majority of Muslims, who are Sunni.
"The kingdom is very much concerned that all Muslims have the right to perform hajj, to visit the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. But all Muslims have to respect each other," Mr. Turki said. "We will not allow any group of Muslims to try to do anything which we feel will make the other party upset." Since all Muslim sects agree on "90 or 95 percent of things," he added, "that's what we should concentrate on."
But Nemer, the Shiite cleric, says Shiites should be able to practice their rituals. "Shia will keep being Shia and will keep going to [holy graves in Medina] and will practice their beliefs there," he said. "So if the other side expects that it will be able to force his way of visiting [holy graves], we will have a problem again."
The Medina clashes set off several days of Shiite protests in Eastern Province. Awwamiya's Sheikh Al-Nimer then gave his provocative Friday sermon, before going into hiding. "We will demand our dignity be restored in all permissible ways.... If it comes down to it ... we will call for seceding from this nation," he proclaimed.
For several weeks, sympathizers of the sheikh staged demonstrations and security forces set up checkpoints. Interior spokesman Turki said authorities have no interest in escalating tensions but want to question Al-Nimer about Medina events because "we believe that these people have been influenced by somebody in their community."
Shiite community leaders publicly rejected Nimer's secession talk, adding privately that his remarks had hurt their cause.
"He spoke of secession; this phrase was a very, very big mistake and he shouldn't have said it," says Tawfiq Al Saif, a writer and Shiite activist in Dammam.
But Shiite grievances remain, Mr. Saif added, and times have changed.
"Most Shia are believing in their rights and they believe they will get their rights," he said. "They believe the world has changed to their benefit, not against it."