«Saudi Arabia HUMAN Denied Dignity RIGHTS Systematic Discrimination and Hostility toward WATCH Saudi Shia Citizens Denied Dignity Systematic ...»
3 Steinberg, “The Shiites in the Eastern Province,” p. 248. King Abd al-‘Aziz agreed to demands by the Ikhwan in 1927 to force the Shia to convert to “Islam,” to close all mosques and husseiniyyas of the Shia, and to prohibit public religious ceremonies.
4 Louer, Transnational Shia Politics, p. 22.
5 Human Rights Watch | September 2009 their areas.5 These demands were at the heart of Shiite protests in the “intifada of 1400,” a local uprising during ceremonies marking `Ashura’ (a major Shia holiday) in 1979,6 in which some Saudi Shia went further, voicing demands for independence.7 The 1979 Islamic revolution in Shia-dominated Iran both emboldened Saudi Shia (their public celebration of `Ashura’ that year being one example), and contributed to the Saudi government increasing support for propagating Sunni Islamic messages in public and in the education system.8 These messages followed the Saudi Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which frequently portrays Shia as unbelievers.9 An incident of violence occurred during the Muslim annual pilgrimage to Mekka in 1987, when Iranian and Saudi Shia pilgrims staged a demonstration against US and Israeli policies which turned violent and resulted in the deaths of 400 pilgrims.10 In the 1980s some Saudi Shia emigrated to escape growing repression at home and expressed their views, including criticisms of the government, through the publication of books and magazines.11 In 1993 the Saudi government came to an understanding with representatives of the émigré Shia opposition whereby they would cease their publications, return to the kingdom, and become a loyal constituency. In return, the authorities promised to release political prisoners, lift travel bans on activists, curb anti-Shia teachings in the educational system, and work toward greater equality between Shia and Sunnis, especially in employment. Some Shia activists did return, but others remained abroad because they were distrustful that the government would honor its promises or because the compromise did not go far enough in their eyes. The government released some political prisoners and 5 Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom. Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), pp.
6 Toby Jones, “Rebellion on the Saudi Periphery: Modernity, Marginalization, and the Shi’a Uprising of 1979,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 38 (2006), pp. 213-233.
7 Tim Niblock, Saudi Arabia: Power, Legitimacy, and Survival (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 82-83. See also Jones, “Rebellion on the Saudi Periphery.” 8 Guido Steinberg, “The Wahhabi Ulama and the Saudi State,” in Paul Aarts and Gerd Nonneman, eds., Saudi Arabia in the Balance (London: C.Hurst & Co., 2005), pp. 28-29.
9 Natana J. Delong-Bas, Wahhabi Islam. From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 84-90.
10 Niblock, Saudi Arabia: Power, Legitimacy, and Survival, p. 81.
11 Human Rights Watch interviews with Hamza al-Hasan, Ja’far al-Shayib, and Sadiq Jubran, who were part of the Saudi Shia émigré opposition at the time, in London, March 2008, Qatif, Eastern Province, February 2006, and Hofuf, Eastern Province, February 2006, respectively.
Denied Dignity 6 lifted travel bans, but made no discernible progress toward curbing intolerant statements and discrimination.12 In 1995 the Saudi government arrested a large number of Shia in the Eastern Province on suspicion of involvement in the unrest taking place in neighboring Bahrain, whose population is majority Shia but whose government is Sunni-dominated.13 Saudi authorities again arrested scores of Eastern Province Shia following the Khobar bombings in June 1996, which killed 19 US soldiers. Authorities continue to hold nine Shia without trial in connection with the bombings following their arrests between 1996 and 1999.14 Since 2006, tensions between Shia and Sunni Saudis have increased, fuelled in part by developments in Iraq and the perceived growth of Iranian influence in the region.15 During the war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah in July and August 2006, the government suppressed demonstrations by Sunnis as well as Shia in solidarity with Lebanon’s Shia, and arrested Shia in the Eastern Province who put pictures or symbols of Hezbollah and Hassan Nasrallah, its leader, in their cars or on their mobile phones.16 Following the appearance of a video showing the execution of deposed president Saddam Hussein of Iraq in December 2006, with officials of the Shia-led Iraqi government taunting Saddam, media reports suggest some Sunnis in Saudi Arabia blamed the Shia in general, including Saudi Shia, for oppressing Iraqi Sunnis.17 Before external factors increased domestic tension between Sunnis and Shia in Saudi Arabia, the authorities had taken some measures to promote respect for the Shia religious minority. Then-Crown Prince Abdullah in 2003 began a series of National Dialogues, which 12 International Crisis Group (ICG), “The Shiite Question in Saudi Arabia,” Middle East Report No. 45, September 19, 2005, http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3678 (accessed August 19, 2009), p. 4.
13 Human Rights Watch/Middle East, Routine Abuse, Routine Denial. Civil Rights and the Political Crisis in Bahrain, June 1997, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/1997/07/01/routine-abuse-routine-denial; and Human Rights Watch interview with two Saudi Shia men, Qatif, February 2006. The men from the Eastern Province were arrested in Bahrain, handed over to Saudi authorities, and severely beaten in Saudi custody in 1995.
14 Human Rights Watch interviews with family members of two detainees, Dammam and Qatif, December 18, 2006. See also Human Rights Watch, Precarious Justice, Arbitrary Detention and Unfair Trials in the Deficient Criminal Justice System of Saudi Arabia, vol. 20, no. 3(E), March 24, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/03/24/precarious-justice-0, pp. 125-128. The
involvement of Shia militants in the Khobar attacks has been questioned. See Gareth Porter, “Investigating Khobar Towers:
How a Saudi Deception Protected bin Laden,” Inter Press Service, http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=47312 (accessed July 4, 2009).
15 Megan K. Stack, “Iraqi Strife Seeping Into Saudi Kingdom,” Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2006, http://articles.latimes.com/2006/apr/26/world/fg-shiites26 (accessed August 19, 2009).
16 Human Rights Watch interviews with two young Shia in Tarut and Qatif, Eastern Province, December 2006.
17 Donna Abu-Nasr, “Sectarianism Casts Shadow Over Mideast,” Associated Press, January 29, 2007, reproduced at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/29/AR2007012900972_pf.html (accessed August 19, 2009).
7 Human Rights Watch | September 2009 brought together for the first time leading Saudi Shia and Sunni religious figures.
Furthermore, the authorities since 2005 eased the prohibition on festivities surrounding Ashura, allowing more public processions in Qatif (see also chapter III). Between February and April 2005 the authorities conducted municipal elections to half the seats of municipal councils, the first elections in most parts of the kingdom, and did not interfere when Shia won all six contested seats in Qatif, and five out of six in Ahsa’.18 Nevertheless, respect by many Saudi Sunnis for Shia identity and tolerance of their religious beliefs remains a distant goal. Saudi religious shaikhs have issued edicts suggesting Sunnis avoid greeting Shia, or eating with them.19 Even attempts to bridge Sunni-Shia divides sometimes face government sanction. In November 2006 the government pressured Shia religious scholars to disband a group they had formed to attempt, together with the national astronomical society, to unify diverse theological methods to detect the arrival of the new moon. The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar year, and differences over dating the new moon, which heralds the start of religious holidays, is a matter of frequent Sunni-Shia contention.20 On February 4, 2007, the Saudi secret police arrested Mukhlif bin Dahham al-Shammari, a Sunni human rights activist working toward greater Shia-Sunni understanding, and detained him for three months for having visited Shaikh Hasan al-Saffar, the top Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia.21 18 Human Rights Watch interviews with Ja’far al-Shayib, winner of a council seat in Qatif, and Sadiq Jubran, Ahsa’, February 2006.
19 See fatwas by Shaikh Abdullah bin Jibrin, member, Council of Senior Religious Scholars: Fatwa No. 12869, “Our Position on the Shia [ ”,] ﻣﻮﻗﻔﻨﺎ ﻣﻦ اﻟﺮاﻓﻀﺔFatwa No. 12461, “On The Way to Treat the Rejectionists [Shia][”,]ﻓﻲ ﻃﺮﻳﻘﺔ اﻟﺘﻌﺎﻣﻞ ﻣﻊ اﻟﺮواﻓﺾ Fatwa No. 8222: Ruling on Marriage by an Ismaili to a Sunni Woman [,]ﺣﻜﻢ ﺗﺰوﻳﺞ اﻹﺳﻤﺎﻋﻴﻠﻲ ﺑﺎﻣﺮأة ﺳﻨﻴﺔand Fatwa No. 7827 “Prohibition on Shia to Pray in Mosques of Muslims [ ”,]ﻣﻨﻊ اﻟﺸﻴﻌﺔ ﻣﻦ اﻟﺼﻼة ﻓﻲ ﻣﺴﺎﺟﺪ اﻟﻤﺴﻠﻤﻴﻦall published, undated, on Ibn Jibrin’s website: Abdullah bin Jibrin, “Ibn Jibrin’s Fatwas,” http://ibn-jebreen.com/ftawa.php?view=subj&subid=1&parent=0 (accessed July 30, 2009). Ibn Jibrin died on July 13, 2009. The Council of Senior Religious Scholars is the kingdom’s highest organ for interpreting Islam. The king appoints its members, who are all Sunni.
20 Human Rights Watch email communication with a person close to Shaikh Faisal al-‘Awwami, a member of the proposed group, November 11, 2006. See also “Announcing the Establishment of the ‘Council for Legal Beginnings’ in Qatif and Dammam Cities [ ”,]»اﻹﻋﻼن ﻋﻦ اﻧﺸﺎء »ﻣﺠﻠﺲ اﻻﺳﺘﻬﻼل اﻟﺸﺮﻋﻲ ﺑﻤﺪﻳﻨﺘﻲ اﻟﻘﻄﻴﻒ واﻟﺪﻣﺎمRasid News Network, http://www.rasid.com/artc.php?id=13227 (accessed July 30, 2009), and Human Rights Watch, The Ismailis of Najran: Secondclass Saudi Citizens, September 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/09/22/ismailis-najran-0, p.22.
21 Human Rights First in Saudi Arabia, statement, February 15, 2007, and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mukhlif al-Shammari, July 30, 2009.
Denied Dignity 8 III. Underlying Discrimination Eastern Province Shia have accused the government for three decades of discriminating against them in two basic ways. First, they claim that the government is denying them religious and cultural space that they allow to Sunnis. Second, many Shia claim that the government discriminates against them in education, the administration of justice, and in employment.
The events since February 2009 discussed in the following chapters highlight the severe restrictions on freedom of religion for Saudi Shia. But the pattern of repression has a longer recent history. Government offices ban Shia religious observations and policemen prevent Shia from enjoying the same rights of worship as Sunnis do. Having banned `Ashura’ processions since taking control of what is now the Eastern Province in 1913, Saudi authorities since 2005 have allowed larger processions in Qatif, though none has been allowed in Ahsa’. The authorities recently built a large Sunni mosque in overwhelmingly Shia Qatif, while continuing to greatly restrict permits for Shia to build or renovate mosques (refusal extends to projects that would not be seeking financial support from the state, something that Sunni mosque projects frequently enjoy).22 The recent history of discrimination against the Shia includes the way in which official figures portray and treat them as persons of dubious faith, and hence, as second class citizens. The former grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Abd al-Aziz bin Baz, in 1993 declared the Shia Ramadhan festival of Qarqi’un a heretical “innovation.”23 The force of such religious pronouncements, and their consequences for denying Shia their religious freedom, can be seen in the actions by a local education official in the Eastern Province: Ahmad BilGhanaim, the director of education in Ahsa’, in September 2007 issued a directive to all schools to ban all Qarqi’un festivities.24 22 Scott Wilson, “Shiites See an Opening in Saudi Arabia. Municipal Vote in East Could Give Suppressed Minority Small Measure of Power,” Washington Post, February 28, 2005, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58262Feb27.html (accessed August 3, 2009).
23 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The General Presidency of the Department for Scientific Research, Fatwas, Missionary Activity, and Guidance of the General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, “Fatwa No 15532,” May 15, 1993. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.
24 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministry of Education, (280) Ahsa’ Governorate Education Administration (Boys), Administration for Islamic Awareness, “Circular to All Units, Administrations, Divisions, Centers for Educational Supervision, Schools, and Institutes, No 34/27166,” September 25, 2007. Copy on file with Human Rights Watch.