Saudis Fear Iran Behind Local Shiite Disturbances

[Taipei Times-Taiwan] Mai Yamani - On Feb. 24, 2,000 Shiite pilgrims gathered near the mosque that houses Muhammad's tomb in Medina for the commemoration of the prophet's death, an act of worship that the ruling Saudi Wahhabi sect considers heretical and idolatrous. The religious police of the Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and the Prohibition of Vice, armed with sticks and backed by police, tried to disperse the pilgrims. Three pilgrims died and hundreds were injured in the ensuing stampede. Shiites constitute 75% of the population in the Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia's main oil-producing region, and identify far more strongly with Shiites across the border in Iraq than with the Saudi state. The empowerment of Iraq's long-suppressed Shiites has raised expectations among Saudi Arabia's Shiites that they, too, can gain first-class status. From the regime's point of view, Shiite Iran is now the most serious security threat. The Saudi authorities perceived the Shiite demonstrations as an assertion of Iranian policy. The writer is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

2009-03-20 06:00:00

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