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Cablegate: Eastern Province Shia Frustrated

VZCZCXRO5592
PP RUEHDE RUEHDIR
DE RUEHDH #0266/01 3050734
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P R 010734Z NOV 09
FM AMCONSUL DHAHRAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0307
INFO RUEHZM/GCC C COLLECTIVE
RUEHDH/AMCONSUL DHAHRAN 0403

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAHRAN 000266

NOFORN
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/ARP JOSHUA HARRIS AND JEREMY BERNDT

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/31/2019
TAGS: PGOV KIRF KREL PHUM SA
SUBJECT: EASTERN PROVINCE SHIA FRUSTRATED

REF: A. A. DHAHRAN 217
B. B. DHAHRAN 246
C. C. DHAHRAN 8

DHAHRAN 00000266 001.2 OF 002


CLASSIFIED BY: Joseph Kenny, Dhahran Consul General, Department
of State.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
SUMMARY

-------

1. (C) Three prominent local Shia report that economic
marginalization, combined with religious discrimination, are
generating increased frustration in the Eastern Province (EP).
This is compounded by a growing generation gap in the Shia
community with an impatient younger generation inclined to
protest their plight loudly and more openly than their
circumspect elders. Symbolic but empty gestures by the SAG are
doing little to placate popular anger. The perceived regional
growth of Shia power is affecting the youth as well,
crystallizing an attitude of "us" vs. "them." END SUMMARY.

The "Have Nots"

----------------------

2. (C/NF) On 12 October, PolOffs and PDOff met with XXXXXXXXXXXX(protect), Vice-President of the XXXXXXXXXXXX; XXXXXXXXXXXX(protect), XXXXXXXXXXXX Council Member; and
XXXXXXXXXXXX(protect), the XXXXXXXXXXXX. They described the ongoing sentiment in the
Shia community as one of mounting frustration. The lack of
economic opportunities and viable employment options for Shia,
especially the youth, remains unchanged. Low university
admission rates despite strong exam scores is also a point of
contention. Although poverty itself is not rampant, economic
marginalization adds a layer of frustration to the
government-imposed religious discrimination of Shia in KSA.

Religious Discrimination

---------------------------

3. (C/NF) Religious discrimination could be the catalyst for
radicalization. The closure of mosques, the prohibition of
public display of Shia rituals and gatherings, and the denial of
access to burial grounds and ceremony, are the most inflammatory
issues in the Shia community. Continued discrimination,
according to XXXXXXXXXXXX (protect), could lead to radicalism
in the EP. XXXXXXXXXXXX recently
reported (16 OCT) that after a Ramadan lull, Saudi authorities
issued orders to close two Shia mosques in Dammam city after an
uptick in mosque closures in the nearby city of Khobar (for more
details on the Khobar mosque closing see ref A). Additionally,
sectarian arrests and mosque closures in al-Ahsa have drawn the
ire of Saudi Shia (see ref B for background on sectarian tension
in al-Ahsa).

4. (C/NF) The closure of religious centers affects those
preparing for religious vocations, thus creating the need to
travel abroad for advanced religious education. Qom, Iran is
often mentioned as a top destination for religious education.
In fact, XXXXXXXXXXXX (protect) recently returned from Qom
himself, where he traveled for religious study. Although he is
quick to dismiss any affection for Ayatollah Khamenei, he
mentioned being criticized on conservative Salafi websites for
his time in Iran.

The Growing Divide

------------------

5. (C/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX (protect) spoke at length on the
growing generation gap in the Shia community between reticent
older members and an impatient younger generation inclined to
protest their plight loudly and more openly, with disregard for
consequences such as imprisonment. He went so far as to say
that their frustration is turning to hopelessness and
exasperation, particularly as it pertains to a lack of religious
freedom. Isa noted that such sentiments could be exploited by
radicals.

6. (C/NF) Vocal religious leaders such as Sayed Mohammad
Al-Nasser reflect Shia frustrations and thus command a growing
following in the EP. Rasid.com recently (08 OCT) reported that
Al-Nasser, the Friday Prayers' Imam in Khobar City, vowed to
continue performing Shia prayers despite the Saudi authorities'
ban. Al-Nasser nevertheless stated that Shia are currently
waiting in anticipation for a royal decree by King Abdullah to
resolve the issue on mosque closures. A high level Shia
delegation from Khobar met King Abdullah on 19 July to brief him
about the mosque closures. Despite promises to look into the
matter, several well-informed contacts have not received any
response on the issue.

Token Gestures

--------------

7. (C/NF) The SAG's consent to Shia involvement in local
politics is not likely to mitigate current frustrations in the
Shia community. Although the SAG has taken measured steps
toward the inclusion of minorities in local politics, these
steps have done little to placate the frustrations of the Shia
community. XXXXXXXXXXXX (protect) emphasized that only an
easing of religious discrimination will stifle the potential for
radicalism. The Shia community's lack of freedom in exercising
their spirituality is a major source of indignation. Hence,
those who wish to espouse radical viewpoints may find an
increasingly larger audience in the Shia community. Suffice it
to say that the three Shia activists present at this meeting
believe that religious freedom is more important than political
inclusion for Shia of the EP.

REGIONAL SHIA RESURGENCE SPURS DEMANDS FOR RIGHTS

--------------------------------------------- ----

8. (C/NF) The perceived Shia "revival" elsewhere in the region
is emboldening the Shia community. XXXXXXXXXXXX (protect)
noted that international media outlets keep the Shia communities
of the EP well informed. Many, especially the youth, are
inspired by what they regard as Shia successes in Iraq and
Lebanon and, hence are encouraged to demand greater rights.
Hussein did not go so far as to suggest that Shias in KSA are
receiving assistance from abroad.

COMMENT

-------

9. (C/NF) The Shia of the EP have long been subject to religious
discrimination and economic marginalization. At times,
sentiments have erupted into open protest, resulting in
bloodshed. It is important to note that such events occurred
spontaneously, like in Medina (ref C), and without extensive
coordination. END COMMENT.
CG: JKENNY

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