Saudis Demolish Historic Shi’ite Neighborhood, Sparking Unrest

Sectarian Tensions Soar on Oil-Rich Saudi Coast

Saudi Arabia’s treatment of its Shi’ite minority has fueled unrest more than a few times in the past, and they seem to be doing so again, demolishing a 400-year-old neighborhood in the Shi’ite town of al-Awamiya, sparking a series of shootings with Shi’ite gunmen that have provided a pretext for Saudi security forces to crack down even more heavily.

The new Interior Minister, whose father is the governor of the oil rich coastal region where the town lies, has simultaneously argued that the demolitions are for the sake of safety, because the ancient homes don’t meet modern safety standards, and also that the town’s Shi’ite population is using the neighborhood to “plan terrorism.”

Not that the Saudis have ever need much pretext to crack down on the Shi’ite minority. Now that they’ve begun, Awamiya residents complain their town is surrounded by an ever-growing collection of checkpoints and security forces are increasingly quick to open fire at the slightest provocation, leading to a number of civilian deaths.

Awamiya has been the site of repeated unrest over the past several years, including Arab Spring protests calling for greater rights for the country’s Shi’ites, led by influential cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed by the Saudi government last year for his role in the “terrorist” protests against the government. The execution too fueled protests, which resulted in crackdowns.

Despite the region around Awamiya being among the richest in the kingdom, the town itself has little to no public services, no hospital, and intermittent blackouts. The mass demolition of the historic neighborhood isn’t being promised as ushering in any sort of improvement, either, but rather is just the latest chance for the kingdom to punish the Shi’ites.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.