A very interesting development took place in Saudi Arabia. The minority Shiites have protested in open against the high handedness of the Saudi authorities who have kept Shiites under a tight control.
There has been a long-standing controversy between the Shiites and the Saudi government about Al-Baquee cemetery near Medina. Shiites consider it a holy site, primarily because many revered personalities are buried there. The Saudi government considers visiting graves and shrines heresy and has in fact leveled graves in Al-Baquee.
Daily Dawn from Pakistan reports on the protests taken out by Shiites in Saudi Arabia against the Saudi government. This is very rare primarily because the government has been ruthless in its dealings with any dissent. The link is pasted below.
A Shiite friend who is a professor in Chicago performed Hajj this year. He told me that while he was praying with the Shiite prayer stone (sajdigah) in the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, a member of the police kicked the stone away. The Saudi version of Islam considers the act of performing Sajdah on a stone as idolatry and therefore keeps a close eye on Shiites rituals during Hajj.
Rare Shia protests in eastern Saudi Arabia
Wednesday, 25 Feb, 2009
RIYADH: Members of Saudi Arabia's Shia minority have held protests that included anti-government slogans rarely heard in public, escalating tensions with authorities sparked by a dispute at a cemetery in Islam's second holiest city.
The worst bout of confrontations in years between Shias and authorities in the overwhelmingly Sunni country began with an argument Friday night in the vicinity of al-Baqee Cemetery in Medina.
A group of Shia pilgrims visiting the cemetery complained that officers from the religious police were filming women among the group. A Saudi official blamed the Shia pilgrims for the trouble, accusing them of performing religious rituals offensive to other worshippers and authorities at the cemetery.
On Tuesday, the dispute erupted into two protests involving several hundred people in an eastern town, and Shia leaders differed over whether demonstrations and shouting slogans would resolve the issue better than quiet dialogue with the government.
Relations have long been tense between Saudi Arabia's majority Sunnis and the Shias, who make up a small minority of the country's 22 million people.
Shias, who are considered infidels under the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam widely followed in the kingdom, routinely complain of discrimination. Outspoken Shia critics have been jailed, and many Shias claim to have been banned from such jobs as the religious police and teaching religion classes.
Many Shias say the government started the latest dispute deliberately. But a Saudi official said the Shia pilgrims triggered it by practicing rituals deemed by others to be 'religious infractions.'
Shia pilgrims to al-Baqee Cemetery usually grab a handful of dust as a blessing and pray at the graves of the imams, actions rejected as inappropriate 'innovations' by the puritanical Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
The official said such 'infractions' always take place at al-Baqee and are dealt with quietly by asking the pilgrims to refrain from performing the rituals. But, the official added, in the most recent incident, there was a large crowd of people bent on provoking the worshippers and authorities at the cemetery.
Asked if members of the religious police had filmed Shia female pilgrims, the official said if any filming had taken place it would have been to take evidence of the infractions and not for voyeurism. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The official said nine of the Shia visitors to the Medina cemetery have been arrested. He said the government is keen to find out the truth and the reasons for the escalation to ensure that such incidents do not happen again. He said the perpetrators will be held responsible. He did not elaborate.
Two witnesses who took part in Tuesday's protests told The Associated Press that demonstrators in the poor Shia town of Awwamiya shouted anti-government slogans. They also carried banners using similar language, such as: 'Down with the Wahhabi domination' and 'Down with the government,' according to the witnesses.
One of them said that as riot police filmed a protest in the town, youths hurled stones at a police outpost. He said police fired in the air to disperse the crowds. No casualties were reported.
But a prominent Shia figure in the more affluent Shia city of Qatif said such protests will not resolve the issue. He said there are high-level talks between members of the Shia community and the government to put an end to the tension.
'This is the best path,' he told the AP. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern that his views against the protests could cause him trouble in his community.
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