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: Saudi Crackdown on Shiites Has Echoes in Bahrain
Thursday 23 June 2011
Some of the officials named in the cables as responsible for the 2009
Among the topics the cables discuss are the arbitrary arrests of Shiite clerics and residents, the closing of Shiite mosques and the blocking of Shiites from an important religious site in the Muslim holy city of
The cables provide rare documentation of what human rights officials have long thought is a persistent campaign waged against Shiites in
The cables, most of them sent from the U.S. consulate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, express concern that the Saudi actions are likely to fuel a sense of disaffection among Shiites, especially young people, and may make them feel less Saudi, a development that experts warn could fuel sympathy for Shiite-ruled Iran.
"Discriminatory measures such as the mosque closings . . . continue to be the modus operandi of elements of the (Saudi Arabian government) in their interactions with the Shia minority sect," said one cable, dated Aug. 15, 2009.
Another cable, sent Sept. 16, 2009, said that "contacts" in the region were concerned that "the discrimination . . . is alienating the Shia community, particularly the youth, and is compromising their sense of Saudi 'national identity.' "
The Saudi Embassy in
In annual human rights reports, the State Department has expressed concern about anti-Shiite actions in
The similarity between the actions ascribed to Saudi officials in the cables and what's taken place in
According to the Aug. 15, 2009, cable, Saudi officials closed at least five Shiite mosques in the
"Several contacts claim that Prince Mohammed bin Fahd (MbF), the wealthy and influential son of the late King Fahd, is behind the mosque closings, noting that the orders came from the provincial governor's office," the Aug. 15 cable said, discussing the closing of mosques in the city of
Another cable, dated March 25, 2009, singled out Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz al Saud as "ultimately behind many of the abuses and discrimination of the Shi'a."
The Sept. 16 cable cited yet a third Saudi leader in connection with the crackdown, Prince Badr bin Jalawi, the governor of the Ahsa region, which comprises much of the Eastern Province.
Citing a source whose name McClatchy has decided not to publish out of concern for his safety, the cable said that "the Prince's discrimination against the Shia is 'systemic and intentional.' "
Sources also told
Naif and bin Fahd have had publicized meetings with Bahraini officials since the crackdown began there.
On April 22, bin Fahd traveled to the Bahraini capital of
A statement from the Saudi Embassy in
On April 19, when
To outsiders, the division between the dominant Sunni sect and minority Shiites can seem incomprehensible. In simplest terms, Shiites believe that the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Ali was his rightful heir. Since Muhammad's death in A.D. 632, the sects have practiced and interpreted Islam very differently, not unlike the differences between Catholics and Protestants in Christianity, which occasionally have led to war.
Those Islamic differences led to a major clash in February 2009 between Saudi security forces and Shiite pilgrims in the Saudi city of
According to a Feb. 24, 2009, cable from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, skirmishes between police and as many as 2,000 Shiite pilgrims, most of them women, broke out after the pilgrims were denied entry to the Baqi'a cemetery, which, the cable said, "is the final resting place of many important figures from the early days of Islam, including relatives and companions of the Prophet Muhammad."
"The Shi'a venerate these graves, and hold a historical grudge against the Al Saud for the destruction of the tombs that occurred when King Abdalaziz conquered
The confrontation went on for nearly three hours, according to one version recounted in the cable, and ended when "the security forces used water cannon (and according to one source tear gas) to disperse the women."
The cemetery incident was cited in a March 25, 2009, cable as one of the reasons for rising tensions that contributed to a sit-down demonstration by Shiites on March 19 in Awamiyya, a village known for its radical Shiite politics. After the demonstration, the cable said, Saudi security officials cut off the electricity and swept through the village, arresting dozens of youths, some as young as 12.
Perhaps the most crucial realm in which Shiites are denied equal rights in
The cables show that Shiites struggled to obtain proper building permits for their mosques while Sunnis had it easy. The Sept. 16, 2009, cable noted how a protected source "joked that if 'just one Sunni complains' that he must travel too far to attend mosque the government will approve and fund a new mosque 'tomorrow.' "
Middle Eastern experts warn of long-term negative consequences to
"My fear, and I think the
To the experts,
"There's a clear sectarian strain that runs through all of this. And Riyadh has not only given the green light to the Bahrainis to crack down, but is probably more than just a passive partner in all of this," said Toby Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East history at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
The widening Sunni-Shiite gulf threatens stability in the world's most important oil-exporting nation.
"Frankly, all the crackdown is going to do, if it continues in its current form, it's going to sow the seeds of future radicalism within the Shia community," Jones said. "If the American anxiety is that
(Kevin G. Hall contributed to this report.)
© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services