go to top
Saudi Shiites pray, Qatif, Saudi Arabia, March 26, 2008 (AP photo/STR).

Saudi Arabia’s Shiites Caught in the Crossfire Between Riyadh and Tehran

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On Jan. 1, 2016, Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric, stoking outrage in the region and beyond. His death, and the backlash that followed, highlighted long-simmering tensions both within Saudi Arabia and between Riyadh and Tehran. News of al-Nimr’s death triggered virulent protests in Iran, with demonstrators setting ablaze the Saudi Embassy in Tehran; Saudi Arabia subsequently severed diplomatic relations with Iran. The response illustrated how Saudi Arabia’s troubled relationship with its Shiite minority could rapidly inflame intercommunal and international relations in the Persian Gulf.

Historically, Saudi Arabia’s Shiite communities were concentrated in what is today the country’s Eastern Province, and extended north and south to communities in modern-day Kuwait and Bahrain. Those transnational links, together with the intense connections of settlement and exchange that for centuries tied together the Arabian and Persian shorelines of the Gulf, have left behind a legacy vulnerable to geopolitical contestation. ...

Want to Read the Rest?
Login or Subscribe Today.
Get unlimited access to must-read news, analysis and opinion from top experts. Subscribe to World Politics Review and you'll receive instant access to 9,000+ articles in the World Politics Review Library, along with new comprehensive analysis every weekday . . . written by leading topic experts.

YES, I want to subscribe now.