The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is mainly populated by Sunni Muslims, but about ten percent of the people are Shiites. A cleric, from the Shiite area of Saudi Arabia which is located in the heart of oil and wealth but whose Shiites live in dire poverty, has denounced the government and threatened violence unless Shiites are treated equally. Cleric Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr spoke out during Friday prayers by exclaiming: “Our dignity has been pawned away and if it is not restored… we will call for secession. Our dignity is more precious than the unity of this land.” Since his comments more than 35 people have been arrested and the cleric has gone into hiding. Police are setting up checkpoints leading into Awwamiya, a key area of Shiites. Other Shiite leaders have distanced themselves from the cleric but also insist the government must do more to establish Shiite equality in a land that denies them job opportunities in government or the armed forces or in industry.
The hardline Wahhbi school of Islam is the official state religoin and Shiites are considered to be infidels. There is growing fear as Shiite Iraq becomes more stable it will seek to assist its fellow Shiites in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Shiites warn the government it is time to address prejudice against them in Saudi Arabia or fear growing radical ideas and leaders emerging in the coming years.