Tag Archive | "Shi’ites"

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Three Saudi Shi’ites Released After Rare Protest

Posted on 21 February 2011 by hashimilion

Three Shi’ites held in prison for over a year were freed in Saudi Arabia’s oil-producing Eastern province, a Shi’ite preacher and a local journalist said on Sunday, days after a rare protest demanding their release.

Shi’ites staged a small protest on Thursday in the town of Awwamiya, near the Shi’ite centre of Qatif on the Gulf coast, to demand the release of the three, who had been held without charges.

“They were released today,” preacher Khoder Awwami told Reuters on the sidelines of a ceremony in a small mosque where the three were welcomed.

“I am so happy,” said Muneer al-Jasas, a blogger and one of the released men.

Officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority mostly live in the Eastern province, which holds much of the oil wealth of the world’s top crude exporter.

The province is near Bahrain, scene of protests by majority Shi’ites against Sunni rulers.

Saudi Arabia applies an austere Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam and Shi’ites say that, while their situation has improved under reforms launched by King Abdullah, they still face restrictions in getting senior government jobs.

The government denies these charges.

Awwamiya, a town visibly less affluent than the rest of the country, was the scene of protests for weeks in 2009 after police launched a search for firebrand Shi’ite preacher Nimr al-Nimr, who had suggested in a sermon that Shi’ites could one day seek their own separate state.

The secessionist threat, which analysts say was unprecedented since the 1979 Iranian revolution provoked anti-government protests, followed clashes between the Sunni religious police and Shi’ite pilgrims near the tomb of Prophet Mohammad in the holy city of Medina.

Since then, Shi’ites say the situation has calmed down but they are still waiting for promised reforms to be carried out.

Officials say Shi’ites make up 10 percent of the Saudi population, although diplomats put it closer to 15 percent.

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Turmoil in the Middle East: Will Saudi Arabia be Next?

Posted on 21 February 2011 by hashimilion

With the recent turmoil across North Africa and the Gulf, investors are now becoming increasingly concerned that the ‘political contagion,’ as the wave of upheaval has come to be known, may flow over into Saudi Arabia as well.

The worry is that the protests in various parts of the Arab World will embolden Saudi youths, or the minority Shiites in the east, to revolt in a similar fashion.

The country supplies about 12% of global oil production and sits on at least a fifth of the world’s oil reserves.

By being on the eastern border of the Kingdom, Bahrain is near key parts of the country’s crude reserves. Although doubtful that Saudi Arabia would be drawn into the contagion, “the fear factor could potentially force oil prices higher and leave the equity markets lower”, Gary Dugan, CIO at Emirates NBD, told CNBC.

Using information from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) for 2009: If you take of Saudi Arabia, and add to that other major oil exporters in the region that have seen turmoil in recent days, such as OPEC members Libya and Algeria, you’re looking at roughly 16% of total oil production that could be at risk. Pricing the risk premium in the current environment will prove to be a daunting guessing game for traders.

Saudi Arabia faces a problem that was a major driver of protests in Tunisia and Egypt to begin with: Youth unemployment. Data by the Central Department of Statistics & Information (CDSI) estimates that 39% of Saudis between the age of 20 and 24 were unemployed in 2009 – up from 28.5% in 2000. But in its most recent report, Saudi Banque Fransi adds that the Kingdom has an “enormous stash of oil wealth it can draw on to finance schemes to sooth popular frustrations without exerting too much strain on its budget”. Saudi Arabia held an estimated $440 billion in net foreign assets in 2010.

Amid the ongoing geopolitical instability, Dugan points out that he has seen “international investors largely retreat from the MENA markets with only hedge funds opportunistically buying local bonds at low price levels.” Emerging market equity funds had net outflows of $5.45 billion last week, according to EPFR.

Indeed, the political future of Saudi Arabia is far from certain. King Abdullah is 87 years old and has spent a lot of time abroad recently for treatment. The crown prince is an octogenarian as well, while the plan for succession is unclear. Angus Blair, head of research at Beltone Financial, told CNBC that “Saudi Arabia will not be excluded from the profound changes sweeping through the Arab world”. He also expects to see reforms through the Shura Council, which is “likely to be awarded more powers as part of a long term program of increased devolution of power”.

The cost of insuring exposure to Saudi Arabia risk for a five-year period rose 15 bps to 140 bps on Friday, according to Markit.

By Yousef Gamal El-Din

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Saudi Arabia Jolted by Egypt, Alarmed by Bahrain

Posted on 18 February 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia, shaken by the loss of a key ally in Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, must now worry that protests in neighbouring ally Bahrain may embolden its own Shi’ite population to push for reform.

Thousands of overwhelmingly Shi’ite protesters, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, took to Bahrain’s streets this week demanding more say in the Gulf Arab kingdom where a Sunni Muslim family rules over a majority Shi’ite population.

Bahraini police stormed a protest camp in the island state’s capital early on Thursday, killing three people. Soldiers in armoured vehicles then fanned out across Manama.

Risks of instability in Saudi Arabia, where Shi’ites make up about 15 percent of the population, would soar if the opposition in Bahrain toppled the ruling al-Khalifa family, analysts said.

“(Saudi) Shi’ites will seek greater social, economic, and religious equality,” said Ayham Kamel, an analyst at Washington-based Eurasia Group. “This will present serious long-term challenges to the (Saudi) royal family, particularly as they prepare for a generational transition of power.”

Bahrain was to host a meeting of Gulf foreign ministers on Thursday, showing the region’s alarm that popular unrest rocking other Arab states could spread even to Gulf oil producers.

Most of Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ites live in the Eastern province, home to most of the kingdom’s oil wealth.

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia and the United States, which bases its Fifth Fleet in Manama, both view Bahrain and the al-Khalifa family as a bulwark against Shi’ite Iran.

“We would expect Saudi Arabia to provide logistical and military support to the Bahraini monarchy if needed,” said Farouk Soussa, Middle East chief economist at Citi in Dubai.

BAHRAIN REGIME CHANGE UNLIKELY

He said Bahrain could see prolonged confrontation but regime change was highly unlikely because of Saudi backing for the ruling family in a close neighbour in which it has key interests.

“Economically, Saudi has enormous leverage as it is custodian of most of Bahrain’s oil production, which is derived from the shared Abu Saafa oil field,” Soussa said, of the offshore oil produced by Saudi Aramco and shared with Bahrain’s refiner.

The U.S. naval base in Manama is vital for Riyadh, providing U.S. military protection of Saudi oil installations and the Gulf waterways on which its oil exports depend, without any Western troops present on the soil of the kingdom, Islam’s birthplace.

Saudi Arabia is unlikely to move quickly and will wait to see how Bahrain, accustomed to low-level unrest, handles the latest protests. Bahraini security forces have clashed sporadically with young Shi’ite protesters since the mid-1990s.

“Beneath it all, they are likely to be giving the Bahrain monarchy any support that it needs,” said Gala Riani, senior Middle East analyst with IHS Global Insight in London.

“Should it become clear that the regime is in danger, the Saudis will step in.”

The two states, linked by a 15-mile causeway, have close political and economic ties and the kingdom is Bahrain’s largest financial backer. Many Shi’ites in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province have family ties with Bahraini co-religionists.

“Saudis consider themselves the godfather of the Bahraini regime,” said Ibtisam al-Qitbi, a UAE-based political analyst.

“There are seeds for disturbance (in Saudi) but you have that security apparatus which is very strong, and the political environment is very, very tight.

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