Posted by: becketfund | April 1, 2009

Saudi Arabia: Cleric Threatens Secession Over Treatment of Shiites

AWWAMIYA – A cleric’s threat of secession has brought a swift government crackdown in this poor, radical Shiite town in Saudi Arabia’s increasingly restive religious minority heartland atop the Sunni kingdom’s main oil reserves, the AP reported on April 1.  Cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr threatened to break away if Saudi authorities don’t treat Shiites better. “Our dignity has been pawned away, and if it is not … restored, we will call for secession,” al-Nimr said during Friday prayers last month.  “Our dignity is more precious than the unity of this land.”  Since that incendiary sermon, more than 35 people have been arrested in a government crackdown and al-Nimr has gone into hiding.  Police have set up checkpoints on the roads leading into Awwamiya, one of the Shiite area’s poorest towns. Other Shiite leaders have distanced themselves from al Nimr’s comments, though they say the government must address growing Shiite anger over discrimination and poverty, which they warn could break into unrest.  Al-Nimr’s words were triggered by a confrontation in late February 2009 in the holy city of Medina, when Shiite pilgrims were visiting a cemetery containing the graves of revered Shiite figures. The pilgrims said Sunni religious police videotaped female pilgrims — an affront to their modesty — and then refused to hand over the tapes or destroy them.  Officials accused the pilgrims of performing rituals offensive to other worshippers and authorities, and scores of Shiites were injured or jailed in the confrontations. Following a brief meeting between King Abdullah and a Shiite delegation, the detainees were released.

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