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Unrest in the Kingdom as Saudis Open Fire on Protestors

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.

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  • Walter Sobchak

    Keystone Pipeline

  • Mick The Reactionary

    Arab Spring is not stoppable!

    Another Muslim Brotherhood Democracy coming to an oil-filled [place] in ME!

    What could go wrong?

  • Jim.

    Are the new petrochemical finds in the US and Canada serving to stabilize the markets at all? Are they seeing any surge in investment money?

    The downfall of the Sauds could stabilize the word long-term, as they stopped being able to finance radical Islam. I hope our short-term interests do not depend on them too much.

    Alternatively, if the House of Saud were to change its tune and allow more religious freedom (for Shiites, and even allow the construction of churches) and more democracy (a constitutional monarchy modeled on Britain or Sweden, perhaps), then they would be well worth our support.

  • Corlyss

    Personally, I’m beginning to see the Arab spring differently. I’m thinking it’s 600 years overdue, since they never had their Reformation or their 30 years war. We should get out of their way and let exhaust themselves killing each other, then deal with the winners. Let the Sunnis obliterate the Shia, or vise versa. Let the Christians get out of there the best way they can. Quit trying to throw the balance of power one way or the other – they’re all a bunch of murderous primative tribal butchers given half a chance. Let them sort it out.

  • Corlyss

    @ Walter

    And fracking.

  • Kris

    And then we have the unfounded rumors about Prince Bandar having the same perspective on daisies as Richard Holbrooke.

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