Is the nose of a Shiite camel trying to get under the Sunni tent in Saudi Arabia? Recent demonstrations in Qatif, a town in Saudi Arabia’s oil rich, predominantly Shiite eastern province, have highlighted growing resentment in the economically cozy but politically and religiously smouldering kingdom. Expect the royal family and their security forces to do all they can to shove this camel’s head right back where it came from.The BBC reports:
[A]rrests took place in the city of Qatif after “rioters” set tyres on fire during an overnight demonstration, an interior ministry statement said.It said there were no casualties, but witnesses said several people were wounded when police opened fire.[…]The demonstration in Qatif was organised to demand the release of political detainees, including the Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Widespread unrest surrounding these events looks unlikely. If you don’t remember the Saudi edition of the Arab Spring last year, that’s because the regime effectively cancelled it on the first day. Despite the high-profile, country-wide “Day of Rage” organized by Saudi liberals, the Kingdom banned all protests and security forces saturated the street, quieting the event to a whisper. Even so, the mere potential of unrest in the oil-rich eastern provinces had options traders scrambling, as instability in the country would send shockwaves through world energy markets and the broader economy.A little more than a year later, central bankers are hoping this fresh unrest in Qatif doesn’t spread or intensify. For now, Saudi authorities seem to have things under control. While this is hardly a consolation for human rights activists, it’s also unlikely that these protestors can force the Saudi government to make any serious concessions.And with the country’s Shiite minority bearing the brunt of hardships and leading the calls for protest, the specter of sectarian war hovers over the situation at all times. We’re watching that movie play out now in Syria. Iran would like nothing better than to see its bitter enemy Saudi Arabia caught up in a destructive sectarian struggle at home. So far, those hopes look forlorn, but oil traders and geopoliticians are both watching to see how the Saudis cope with this latest round of protest.