Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Shia Unrest in Saudi Arabia

by Elliott Abrams
July 13, 2012


Though there is not much Western reporting yet on this phenomenon, Shia unrest in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province appears to be growing.

Two recent reports, including interesting amateur films of demonstrations and some violence, can be found in this Arab web site and buried in the New York Times here. The key question is whether the unrest is over or will spread among Saudi Shia.

The proximate cause of the unrest is clear: Saudi security forces shot and wounded, while arresting, Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr last week after he called the death of the late Minister of the Interior and Crown Prince, Nayef, a cause for celebration. The deeper cause is Shia unhappiness with what they view as discrimination and indeed repression by the Saudi authorities.

This violence will have repercussions in Bahrain. Whether or not it leads to more protests by Bahraini Shia, it will likely lead the Saudis to press the Bahraini government for more repressive measures rather than more compromise. The Saudi royal family’s harsh reaction to Nimr’s comments was predictable, and his comments were foolish and dangerous. Still, in the long run Shia complaints about second-class citizenship in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia cannot be successfully dealt with by arrests and repression. Compromise will have to come or more violence will. But moderates in both countries face not only the inherent difficulties of negotiating such compromises; they also face extremists, Sunni and Shia, who think they benefit from confrontations and who reject compromise.

It will be 115 degrees today in Qatif. Hot summer indeed.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Nabeel

    As long as you continue to discard the Iranian role in Bahrian and Saudi your analysis is idiotic at best. We in Bahrain live the Iranian medling into our lives on daily basis, while sitting in the comfort of DC making naive assumptions that it is all based on human rights. You have along way to go to see the light.

  • Posted by AmrikaE

    In response to Nabeel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are Iran’s backyard and off course any “meddling” contitutes looking after their interests, in as much as U.S. has to.

    The U.S. must stop supporting the despotic regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain before its too late.

    They are weak and unreliable. Their times are up and therefore are unable to protect U.S. interest in the middle east and as a matter of fact they are a liability.

    Saudi Arabia is actually a threat.

    The U.S. government should treat these two Kingdoms the same way it treats Iran. sanctions, sanctions and more sanctions until the regimes fall apart.

  • Posted by Caroline

    Oddly, I see no reference to “human rights” in this article and even the flawed BICI investigation done at the “king’s” behest found no Iranian involvement in the Bahrain democracy movement. This argument is often made but no concrete example is ever given as there isn’t one.
    It seems that a small, ignorant segment of the population in the repressive regimes of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain (no doubt individuals who profit from repression) believe no one outside their countries can see the obvious warts on their noses.
    I advise a new mirror.

  • Posted by رائد

    Being a citizen of the Arabian Gulf, i witness and actually see whats going on here. The threats we receive from our neighboring enemy ‘Iran’, occur on a continuous basis that people started not to care about their talk. But the actual threats and violance that occurs infront of our own eyes is what makes us do something about it. When u have an individual who goes out of his way to make weapons made of fire extinquishers, molotovs, and bats to harm government security officials; thats when we realize these people have other hidden intentions and agendas, and not human rights. And then to see them hold a rally with iranian flags and pictures of khomeini, that kinda makes it obvious who is backing or influencing these people.

    And for the comments that Amerikae mentioned, all i have to say is that you point to our Allies because theyre your enemy. If they werent your enemy, then they would not even be brought up. As for us being a threat, we were not the ones who threatened to use force, occupy islands, or threaten to close the strait of hormuz. We are actually trying to calm the flames in the region. So who is the actual threat?


    With complete honesty, none of these laws that occur and get implemented from international organizations or agencies are credible these days. As i mentioned before, iranian involvement is there and alive if u live here, because you will actually see it with the flags being raised, the chatter amongst the locals, and the sentiment that the opposition have towards the leadership. Caroline, the Arabian gulf countries are a man dominated society, so just accept it. Not you or anyone else cannot change that, only God/Allah can. We dont need human rights, theyre just an excuse for the world elite such as the bilderberg group and their group of cronies to extend their capitalistic agenda over here. We already have what we need, and thats Sharia Rights. So u can take your agenda and use it else where 🙂

  • Posted by Procivic

    Saudi Arabia (the only country bearing the name of a tribal chief) and the other latter-day “kingdom” , Bahrain, are anachronisms kept alive by massive U.S. support and a groveling mainstream Western media that benefits from handouts.

  • Posted by Raja M. ali Saleem

    Not long ago, there was another oil-rich monarchy in Middle East. Its brutality toward its own people was legendary but it was allied with the West. Western governments were uneasy with its undemocratic repressive ways but kept supporting it as fulfilled their agenda in the Middle East. Eventually, people overthrew that monarchy and West, as it supported monarchy for so long,was considered enemy by many people in that country.

    I hope West has learned from history and avoids making the same mistakes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as it made in case of Iran. Irrespective of what Iran is doing, West should support the people as people would win eventually and would remember their allies and enemies.

  • Posted by HNS84

    The despotic Saudi Regime is no better that that of Iran. In fact, it is at at least as bad, even Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have severely criticized the Saudi regime for its serious abuses of human rights. Saudi Arabia is no becon of democracy and the authoritarian rulers of Saudi Arabia are some of the worst abusers of human rights in the world. They brutally oppress demonstrators in the Eastern Province and send troops to do the same in Bahrain while the Saudi regime finances and arms the Sunni rebels fighting the Assad regime in Syria simply because it is not Sunni. Do you see the Saudi regime’s double standards and hypocrisy here?

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