4 people are dead and 11 injured in as a result of clashes between Saudi security forces and Shia demonstrators in Qatif, the oil rich region of Saudi, approximately 16 miles from Bahrain. Home to demonstrations supporting Bahrain in March, this is not the first time SA has seen protests, but does mark the first time gunfire has been used against them. Saudi authorities are blaming an un-named foreign influence (Iran) for the violence as, the Shia demonstrators protested for more inclusion in society and in support of Bahrain.
Qatif is home to more than 2 million Shias, some of whom took to the streets to protest against the systematic discrimination they face in their day to day lives. In addition to this, the Shias are often neglected in terms of public spending and are even victims of the clerics and public authorities inciting the public against them. While they are formerly citizens, they do not enjoy the same luxuries as “full” citizens and are often disregarded.
With the Arab Awakening unfolding all around them and the threat of Iranian influence becoming more real daily, Saudi Arabia would be hard pressed to embrace their Shia minority, instead of ostracizing them, creating a powerful and large group vulnerable to Iranian influence. Iran will seize these sectarian cleavages as opportunities to undermine the royal family and destabilize the country, in order to exert their own influence and power in the region. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, unifying Saudi society will serve to prevent riots or demonstrations of this nature that may undermine royal legitimacy within the Kingdom, and also serve to keep Iran at bay.
On the other hand, demonstrations such as these may serve to inspire hope for other marginalized groups, such as women and the working classes.
Below are links to a few articles detailing the riots and violence:
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/10/2011104154541907192.html (excellent video showing protestors)