Shiite Unrest In Saudi Arabia Stirs Rivalry With Iran


Protests took place in the Shiite-majority Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia on Monday, according to the Saudi Press Agency. A group of rioters reportedly shot automatic weapons at security forces, wounding nine. The Interior Ministry vowed to use an “iron fist” against any further unrest and claimed the attack was initiated by a “foreign country”—presumably Iran.

Riyadh is also getting nervous about other initiatives of Iran in its neighborhood—particularly in relation to the Shiite unrest in Bahrain. In an effort to quell the unrest, Bahrain’s leadership has gone to Iran for help. Stratfor reports that on September 26, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, Bahrain’s foreign minister met with his Iranian counterpart to talk about improving bilateral relations and to ask Tehran to portray Bahrain in a more positive light in Iranian state media.

This meeting “indicates Bahrain’s desire to pacify its Shiite opposition by improving ties with Iran,” says Stratfor. “Tehran will ask a price for such amelioration, most likely in the form of the removal of most or all [Gulf Cooperation Council] forces from Bahrain—something to which the Saudis are vehemently opposed. However, as recent events show, Tehran potentially has more potent levers against Riyadh than Bahrain” (October 4).

There have been several Shiite rallies in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province in support of the Bahraini protesters in recent months, and the incident this week provides a warning to Riyadh of the potential for large-scale Shiite unrest spreading into its territory.

Saudi Arabia is also facing unrest over its border in Yemen, with the leader of the al-Houthi rebels on Tuesday called Saudi Arabia “an enemy to the entire Muslim world” on Iranian state television.

Saudi-Iranian competition for influence in the Persian Gulf is heating up as the two prophesied end-time alliances in the Middle East solidify—one led by Iran, and the other a more moderate grouping that will ally with Europe.