Notes on unrest in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is set to hold a mass execution of around 50 people, whom the regime accuses of being terrorists.  Many appear to be people who have been participating in anti-government protests in the eastern areas populated by the marginalized Shia minority.  This region saw massive, unprecedented protests in 2011 and 2012 with mass participation that verged on the brink of an insurgency, with protesters and security forces alike being injured and killed.

stratfor saudi arabia map

Map of Saudi Arabia and the key flashpoints of unrest, via Stratfor

The unrest here, based on what I have been reading in Toby Matthiesen’s Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn’t (2013), is linked with increasingly rebellious networks of working-class Shia youth, who feel alienated from more conservative and reformist minded Shia community leaders who entered into a dialogue with Saudi elites in the 1990s and early 2000s (to little avail for the political, economic, and social position of the Shia masses).  These networks coalesced into an umbrella group, the Coalition for Freedom and Justice around the common demand for the end to the monarchy and the establishment of an democracy.

An interesting interview via Jadaliyya with one constituent organization, the Eastern Province Revolution, shines light on the history and experiences of local militants and activists.  Of note is that they appear to be non-sectarian and have mobilized in solidarity with other, more minor uprisings and protest movements in other parts of the Kingdom (such as protests by female students in Abha, south-western Saudi Arabia).

And of special note for folks in the West is their response to the question of what their biggest challenge is:

Our biggest challenge is US support for Al Saud on all fronts, including intelligence and military. Al Saud cannot act against the people without the “Americans.”

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