Saudi Shi’ite protests simmer as Bahrain conflict rages
Hundreds of young Shi’ite men marched down a commercial street in the Saudi city of Qatif, near the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry, pounding their fists in anger over their country’s military intervention in Bahrain. “With our blood and soul we sacrifice for you, Bahrain,” they chanted as they walked, according to videos of a recent protest posted on the internet. Some wore scarves to conceal their faces. Others waved Bahraini flags.
“People are boiling,” one Shi’ite activist in Qatif told Reuters by phone, asking not to be named for fear of arrest. “People are talking about strikes, demonstration and prayer to help the Bahrainis.”
The protests were in response to Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and most powerful Gulf Arab state, sending troops to Bahrain last week to help quell weeks of protests by majority Shi’ites in the Sunni-led monarchy. Bahrain’s opposition called it a declaration of war.
Riyadh, facing Shi’ite protests of its own, fears a sustained revolt in neighboring Bahrain could embolden its own Shi’ite minority, which has long grumbled about sectarian discrimination, charges Riyadh denies. The military intervention, however, appears to have only deepened Shi’ite resentment in the kingdom, where between 10 and 15 percent of the 18 million Saudi nationals are Shi’ites.