With civil wars in Iraq and Syria now being fought along mainly sectarian lines, Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority feels increasingly vulnerable in a country where anger is rising among the majority sect at the plight of Sunnis in other countries.
Sunni jihadis now speak about Shi’ites as a greater enemy to members of their sect than the Western governments that were formerly their most hated foes. The Saudi government has done little to stem a corresponding upsurge of provocative language there, cracking down on only extreme examples and emphasizing a shared national identity irrespective of sect.
“For sure criticism of Shi’ites by clerics and religious television stations creates the atmosphere where this can happen. In our own schools the teachers tell our children that we are not Muslims,” said a witness of the shooting who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions.
Monday’s attack took place in al-Dalwah, located in Eastern Province’s al-Ahsa, an oasis that is home to around half the kingdom’s Shi’a minority. It prompted a police manhunt that has so far led to 20 arrests and the deaths of three suspects and two policemen in a gunfight.
Top Sunni clerics have condemned the attack, which officials have blamed on al Qaeda, and Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef visited Eastern Province to offer condolences to bereaved relatives of the victims.
Those actions have given comfort to the villagers. But some of them believe more needs to be done to stop hostility towards members of their sect.