Why the Saudi Shiites Won’t Rise Up Easily

Leo Kwarten

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Shiite citizens face considerable religious, political and social discrimination in Saudi society. In the 1970s and 1980s, this situation has instigated bloody street protests and Shia calls for an Islamic revolution. Although the Saudi Shiites have considerably moderated their position since, these incidents still feed speculations about the impact the political emancipation of the Shiites in Iraq and the rise of Shiite Iran as a regional power will have on the Saudi Shiites. Do they feel emboldened enough as to put pressure on their government by pushing through their political demands more forcefully to the point of striving for secession from the Saudi state? Leo Kwarten strongly disagrees with this line of reasoning. Making use of interviews with local Shiite leaders, he argues that the Saudi Shiites are strongly aware of their limited political options and strive to improve their position first and foremost through dialogue with the government. At the same time, they ally themselves with other neglected minorities and liberals in Saudi society hoping to change the absolutist foundations of the Saudi kingdom into a more pluralistic one.

Leo Kwarten was trained as an Arabist and Anthropologist at the University of Leyden in the Netherlands. He is an established writer and political analyst on the Middle East, who is regularly interviewed by Dutch radio and television for his views on the Middle East, Arab culture and Islam. In 1997, he published a book about Syria. He is also a lecturer with the Clingendael Institute, a think-tank and diplomatic academy based in The Hague acting for the benefit of both government and general public. Additionally, he serves as a intercultural consultant for western companies operating in the Middle East. Some of his clients are Arab companies that want to gain further understanding of the western cultures they are dealing with commercially.

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