Your Ad Here

March 09, 2012

The Life of Discrimination of Saudi Shiites: from birth to death

March 09, 2012

March 09, 2012

By Mohammed Ali Al-Masseri, from Qatif, for The Arab Digest

To be born and raised in a Qatif family might seem to be a source of delight for many in the world especially that this oil-rich city produces more than 800 thousand barrels a day of light crude oil. One might suppose that the residents of this province, whose population according to official numbers is 524,182, live a life of comfort and luxury, in which basic services are for granted. Unfortunately, reality says otherwise.

(a poor Qatif resident check his home following a flood; al-Riyadh newspaper) 

The suffering of a Qatif resident usually begins from his/her mother’s womb. In Qatif, there is only one hospital, 26 year old, with a 360 beds capacity for all types of patients (other Saudi cities have specialised birth hospitals). Considering the province’s population, medical services in Qatif are insufficient. If the baby’s father lacks a private insurance, which is the case for the majority including those who work in the public sector, he has to hope that his wife finds a place at the hospital when her water breaks.

When (Shiite) Qatifis goes to school, they have study the subject of Islamic education according to the Sunni-Hanbali sect, the state’s official, but undeclared, religious sect. Shiites are not only obliged to learn Islamic education according to another sect; their own faith is ridiculed, considered heretical and profane in school textbooks. These textbooks even call upon believers to abandon Shiite beliefs and practices. This education policy runs in parallel with continuous Saudi fatwas (religious edicts), considering Shiites heretics and infidels. As a result, during the past few decades, alienation became increasingly the norm in Shiite society; these policies have strengthened obstacles in the way of their effective integration in their home nation, due to the absence of religious freedoms, which was an intrinsic right when the region entered Saudi sovereignty.

(Another shack house in the poor Qatif province)

When Qatifis finish high school, they have to leave their province for university, as the government has not built any in their region, and those close by are insufficient either in subjects or in student capacity. The state’s budget for education in 2012 was 168.6 Billion Riyals (more than 30 Billion dollars).

After graduation, Qatifis are deprived of important jobs, regardless of their qualifications. The answer is usually ready: these positions are allocated according to qualifications, and are not subject to quotas. While the answer looks convincing at first glance, discrimination is not limited to senior positions, but rather includes mid-level jobs. The locals are banned from occupying positions like the directors of the agricultural bank in Qatif, its central hospital, high court, bureau of education and learning in both Qatif and Safwa, the mayor of Safwa, the provincial governors of Qatif and Safwa, the director of Qatif’s prison, the headmasters of all four levels in girls’ schools and many other positions. They also cannot occupy mid-level positions whose influence or jurisdiction is limited to their own region. Some Qatifis have succeeded in breaking these limitations and have occupied a few important positions in the private and public sectors; nevertheless, their numbers remain very limited compared to the rampant marginalisation of their community.

Qatif’s residents face discrimination in building new mosques. During prayers, they run fund raising campaigns to renovate or rebuild old mosques. Unlike the remaining provinces, the Islamic Affairs ministry (Awkaf) does not build mosques and Hussayniyat in Qatif; building permits are not also issued, thus obliging residents to either build them illegally as houses, or renovate old mosques and Hussayniyat, some of which are over a century old and thus incompatible with contemporary demographic increases.

Shiite historical judiciary rights have been also reduced during the past few decades. Qatif’s Ja’fari (Shiite) court has had its name changed to “the bureau of inheritance and Awkaf (religious property including mosques)”; the name encapsulates the court’s remaining jurisdiction. During the reign of the founding King Abdul Aziz, may God have mercy on his soul, the Shiite minority’s courts had full jurisdiction over its constituents. Today, with the exception of marriage, divorce and inheritance, Qatif’s high court, which is run by Sunni Sharia judges, settles most cases in Qatif. Under Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdul Aziz, Shiites also had their own religious seminaries (Hawza-clergy school), where they studied the Quran, Arabic literature, logic and philosophy, but they were shut down. Studying the Shiite faith has been banned. This ban has forced religious students to travel to Najaf (Iraq) and Qom (Iran) to study in seminaries there.

Qatif was the administrative capital of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern region; this is changing. The locals were recently surprised by the government’s decision to alter the administrative borders of Qatif, in an effort to increase the neighbouring provinces’ size; this policy has important implications on development and funds allocation in the region. It angered Qatif’s residents and led the municipal council to contact the Prince/Governor of the Eastern province and his deputy. The council also wrote letters of objection to the Royal Diwan (palace or office of royal affairs), contacted the ministries of interior, municipal affairs and other government agencies. These administrative changes are a culmination of series of problems, from which Qatif’s residents suffer. Some residents established a group called “somood min Ajl el hodood” (persistence for the border’s sake) to restore the province’s administrative borders and investigate the mechanism/criteria of land allocation. The Saudi government also bridged water on vast areas on the shores of Tarut Island, Qatif and Darin Cornish to build residential complexes. This plan is destroying the region’s environment, whether plants or fish.


(Photo: a poor neighbourhood in Shiite Tarut island; such poverty has sparked much controversy in oil rich Saudi Arabia)

Finally, discrimination haunts Saudi Shiites even in their death. Qatif’s residents are only allowed to be buried in their own province. So, if a Shiite lives in neighbouring Damam city which is now connected to Qatif due to continuous building there, dies; his body has to be transferred to Qatif or neighbouring towns. On the other hand, Jeddah has a Christian graveyard, where foreigners from different nationalities are laid rest. Tolerance, when it exists, seems only to target foreigners, and not Saudi Arabia’s own Shiite citizens. All attempts to build a Shiite graveyard in Damam have failed in spite of many sympathetic voices.

The existence of these obstacles against a segment of society leads to its alienation, thwarts its integration, increases its feeling of injustice, and finally deprives the country from the potential of its Shiite citizens. Time has come to surpass this obstacle to build a country that embraces all its components without discrimination or marginalisation, setting a model to the rest of the world. Such an initiative will eliminate all sources of tension to cut the road for those conniving against our country. We need to utilise our internal strength, enforce our national unity and turn this page to deal with the challenges we face.

This cause has depleted many efforts which could have been spent to achieve the aspired advances in our country; the persistence of the sectarian problem, does not conform with the country’s reform policy under the leadership of King Abdullah, may God preserve him and prolong his life. Our King said in a speech “I pledge to God and then to you, to make the Quran a constitution, Islam a pathway, and to be occupied with establishing justice and serving all citizens without discrimination”. In another speech, he states that “fomenting Sectarian conflicts and reviving regional tensions and the supremacy of one segment over the other, all contradict Islamic values”. The custodian of the two holy mosques (Saudi King) also said that he will “strike with justice at prejudice and unfairness”. Such clear statements doubtlessly confirm that Shiite citizens’ demands to raise sectarian prejudices are just; these demands need to be met and to be directly dealt with through a political will.

PS. You can access the article's Arabic original here.


Thanks for the informative article and your continued unbiased reporting. We in the states are looking for alternative reliable sources on the happenings in the M.E. With so much dis-information on the major networks that have an obvious agenda, such as "Syria Danny", from CNN for example, your site is a breath of fresh air. More and more people who want the truth are turning to the "blog" world for information and I have referenced this cite in many heated debates. Is there a way that I can get a notification for each new story posted. If there's some way I can leave my contact info for this purpose, I'd really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and know that we care, as does most of the Islamic community, about the well-being of all mankind. Peace in the M.E.

Post a Comment


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More