Still invisible – the stigmatization of Shi’a and other religious minorities in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia remains one of the most restrictive countries in the world with regard to religious freedom, particularly for Shi’a and other religious minorities who continue to face official discrimination, social exclusion and state persecution. Still invisible – the stigmatization of Shi’a and other religious minorities in Saudi Arabia highlights how, though the state has frequently emphasized the importance of national unity, its recent response to demands from Shi’a for greater religious freedom and equality have further alienated many communities.
This was especially evident in the crackdown on protests in the Eastern Province, beginning in 2011, with hundreds of activists killed, injured or imprisoned since then. This includes death sentences against a prominent Shi’a activist, Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr, and his nephew, Ali Mohammed Baqir Al-Nimr, despite him being only 17 years old at the time of his alleged offences.
Shi’a in Saudi Arabia have also been subjected to an unprecedented wave of violence by militants apparently linked to Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Shams (ISIS), with at least five major attacks between November 2014 and October 2015 that have killed dozens and injured many more. Though these incidents have attracted official condemnation, concrete measures to address the underlying problems of sectarianism have yet to be implemented to protect those at risk.
While the authorities treat civil protests and targeted violence against Shi’a and other groups in narrow terms of security, Saudi Arabia will likely continue to experience popular protests and the threat of militant violence. Securing a long-term solution will therefore depend on the ability and commitment of the state to enable its religious minorities to participate as free and equal citizens, ending decades of discrimination against them.
Photo: Shi’a Muslim women in Saudi Arabia. Credit: Samira.