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Monday, August 01, 2011

Wikileaks: Hezbollah recruiting young Saudi Shi'ites

Wikileaks released a couple of interesting cables about Shi'ites in the Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.

The first cable, from 2006, was optimistic. Here's the summary:
(S) Some Sunni Arab leaders, including Egypt's President Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah, have recently publicly questioned the loyalties of Arab Shi'a populations in the Middle East. Privately, senior Saudi officials raise similar concerns. Given the ongoing sectarian conflict in Iraq, increasing regional tensions vis-a-vis Shi'a Iran, and the tenuous status of Saudi Shi'a within their own country, the question of whether Saudi Shi'a loyalties belong primarily with Saudi Arabia - or, alternatively, to their coreligionists elsewhere in the Gulf - is a timely one. It is also of central concern to U.S. strategic interests in the region, given the concentration of Saudi Arabia's Shi'a population in its oil producing areas.

Our conclusion, based on discussions with a broad spectrum of Saudi Shi'a contacts over the past eight months, is that most Saudi Shi'a remain committed to the agreement reached between the Saudi Shi'a leadership and King Fahd in 1993-4, whereby Shi'a leaders agreed to pursue their goals within the Kingdom's political system in return for the King's promise to improve their situation. Saudi Shi'a have deep religious ties to Iraq and Iran and are inspired by the newfound religious freedom and political power of the Iraqi Shi'a; they also have a lengthy history of persecution by the Al-Saud and face continuing discrimination (ref B). Nonetheless, their leaders still appear committed to working for reform from within, a strategy that, thanks to King Abdullah, is slowly bearing fruit. In our view, it would require a major internal or external stimulus to move the Saudi Shi'a toward confrontation with Riyadh. Such stimuli could include a major shift in SAG policy or leadership, the spread of uncontained sectarian violence to the Kingdom, or a major change in regional security arrangements, especially escalating regional conflict involving Shi'a (ref C). Absent these circumstances, the vast majority of Saudi Shi'a are not likely to demonstrate significant external political loyalties, either to Iran or to any inchoate notion of a "Shi'a crescent."

But in 2009, it was starting to look like a new threat was looming:

Our recent meetings with Saudi Arabia's Shi'a groups in the Eastern Province (EP) revealed divergent attitudes toward their country.

-- (U) Mainstream Shi'a, including municipal council members, identify themselves as Saudis first and Shi'a second.

-- (U) Elsewhere, Hizballah's messages find fertile ground among younger Shi'a, frustrated by religious and economic discrimination. They openly criticize the government and identify themselves as Shi'a first. The same group acknowledge that today they have more employment opportunities at Aramco than they had ten years ago.

-- (C) Signs of sympathy toward Hizballah among some EP Shi'a include recent street demonstrations and the open display of Hizballah flags and posters.

...SMELLS LIKE SOUTH LEBANON. Further north along the coastal oasis, in the majority-Shi'a community of Safwa, Emboffs paid a nighttime visit to a group of five younger Shi'a at the home of XXXXXXXXXXXX (protect). Safwa, like Qatif, lacks the smartly developed infrastructure of Riyadh or even Dhahran, with narrower streets and modest homes. Al-Ahmed's spartan sitting area boasted two photos of Nasrallah hung in one corner and three rifles propped in another. Upon Emboffs arrival, XXXXXXXXXXXX called together a group of colleagues who more openly shared the frustrations of EP Shi'a.

RELIGIOUS MINORITY. In a free-ranging discussion, this younger group attributed their economic marginalization to religious discrimination. In one of several examples, a medical student in the group described his ejection from a shopping center mosque, where he was called "kafir" (unbeliever) and told to leave. "Why should I support the government when I am treated like this?" he asked. Nevertheless, they characterized EP Shi'a as able to distinguish between religion and politics. Though they may look to Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran, Ali al-Sistani in Iraq or Mohammed Fadlallah in Lebanon for their religious guidance, many of the youth in particular look to Hezbollah as their political voice.
This may shine more light on the earlier Wikileaks cable that said that Saudi Arabia proposed a multinational force to destroy Hezbollah in Lebanon.