Shias voice discontent at Saudi ruling regime

Shias voice discontent at Saudi ruling regime
Sun Jun 1, 2014 12:11:57

In Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern Province, protesters inspired by the Arab Spring have been venting their anger against the government for the last three years, saying the ruling regime denies rights of the Shia community.

The Eastern Province is home to most of Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslims. They make up less than 15% of the population, and many say they suffer sectarian discrimination. The demonstrations in Saudi Arabia began in early 2011, when protesters demanded the release of nine men held for years without trial.

They were emboldened by the Arab uprisings sweeping through the region. But in this conservative monarchy, dissent is rarely tolerated.

Over the past three years of protests 20 young men have been killed, and hundreds more have been injured or jailed.

The protesters have meticulously documented their actions in an effort to get their message out.

In secret gatherings, it became clear there were no unified demands, but all wanted to see sweeping reforms.

Though Qatif is oil-rich, Shia activists say its residents have long been marginalized politically and economically.

One morning in February last year, BBC’s Saudi journalist Safa al-Ahmad got a message that security forces had raided the houses of two wanted activists, Fadhil al-Safwani and Morsi al-Ribh, in the flashpoint town of Awamiya, but they had managed to escape.

"They treated us like terrorists. It's very clear they meant to kill," said Saudi activist Safwani.

"You are now standing on top of oilfields that feed the whole world. But we see nothing of it. Poverty, hunger, no honor, no political freedom, we have nothing. What is left? And after all this, they attack us and try to kill us."

The demonstrators had always denied government accusations that they were using weapons in their protests.


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