Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Great Divide

by Gal Luft and Anne Korin from The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)

Whatever the disproportionate weight of Sunnis in the Muslim world as a whole, in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Shi’ites comprise a 70% majority. As if by divine plan, 45% of the world’s proven oil reserves lie under territories inhabited by the “sons of Ali”. These territories include Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and (most important of all) the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, home to most of the kingdom’s giant oil fields and export terminals. For the Saudi royal family, the prospect of a Shi’ite uprising is a nightmare. Shi’ites make up roughly 15% of Saudi Arabia’s population of 25 million. Most Saudis, practitioners of the extremist Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, see these Shi’ites as heretics who should be treated as second-class citizens or, in the words of one cleric, as “more dangerous than Jews and Christians.” For their part, Saudi Shi’ites see themselves not only as an oppressed minority, but as an occupied one. They sit atop the country’s oil but enjoy none of its rewards, and their appetite for political power has been whetted by the Shi’ite revival in Iraq. To the alarm of the House of Saud, during the 2005 Saudi municipal elections, turnout in Shi’ite-dominated regions was twice as high as it was elsewhere.

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