Persecution Of Shi'ites In Saudi Arabia

In the Sunni dominant Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite Muslims make up approximately 10-15% of the population. The tensions between the two branches of Islam date back to the death of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The dispute regarding his successor caused divisions, with the Shi'ite Muslims believing Muhammad's bloodline should determine his successor and the Sunni Muslims electing Muhammad's advisor. As of 1932 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which rules as an autocratic government, has persecuted Shi'ite Muslims, accusing them of heresy even greater than that of Judaism and Christianity.

Shi'ite Muslims in Saudi Arabia have limited access to employment including prominent positions in education, security, military and the law. The Wahhabi ideology, which discriminates against Shi'ites, pervades the education system of Saudi Arabia. The right to take part in religious practices specific to the Shi'ite faith is often denied. Recently Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr, who organised peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations calling for equality between Sunnis and Shi'ites, was executed on terrorism charges. Such examples of injustice could be considered as a form of religious apartheid.

There is dreadful persecution of Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia, which needs to be seen in the context of a wider problem in Saudi society. Censorship is widespread and it is against the law for any political parties to exist. Whether Sunni or Shi'ite, women's rights in Saudi Arabia are extremely limited, to the extent that women are not even allowed to drive. Criticism of the regime or the Wahhabi ideology by citizens can be met with severe punishment. Hundreds of Shi'ites as well as Sunnis face unjust persecution and receive corporal or capital punishment, very often without trial. There is strong condemnation of the tremendous human rights violations taking place under the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

With this in mind, it is clear that much needs to be reformed before the question of equality between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims can even be raised. Indoctrination against Shi'ism and almost complete lack of freedom of speech means that change can only come from the kingdom itself or by means of a complete upheaval of the government. Despite condemnation by many foreign states, Saudi Arabia suffers few repercussions because of its major role in within OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries).

Eradication of this sectarianism is unlikely in the foreseeable future due to the generally oppressive nature of Saudi society. Should Saudi Arabia reach the point where adequate civil rights are introduced, then Shi'ites can finally start working towards equality in Saudi Arabia.