09/04/2009, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA

Shiites in Saudi Arabia discriminated against as "non-believers"

A report by HRW traces the marginalization of Shias in schools, courts, mosques, military, government, labour. Similarly (and perhaps worse) Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc are discriminated against.

Washington (AsiaNews) - Saudi authorities treat Shiite followers of Islam as equal citizens, by stamping out the "systematic discrimination" to which they are subject in the education, justice, work. This is what a report by Human Rights Watch, published yesterday calls for.

In the kingdom of Saud, Shi'ites represent 10-15% of the population, and are always treated as second class citizens. The Islam followed in Saudi Arabia is the puritanical Wahhabi, Islam which regards Shia as a betrayal of Islam and the Shiites as the atheists, no different to members of other religions.

In fact Saudi Arabia the practice of any other religion except fundamentalist Sunni Islam is forbidden. Temples, churches, pagodas are prohibited, as well as public displays of religious objects and private religious gatherings.

In defending the rights of the Shiites, the HRW report, of approximately 35 pages, begins with an incident last February in Medina, where some Shiite pilgrims clashed with the religious police (Muttawa), who monitor the implementation of Wahhabism and social customs. Following these clashes, there were many protests and arrests.

HRW gives voice to the demands of Shiites: equal opportunities in civil service and the army; the possibility of building their mosques and their courts, freedom to publish books. The human rights organization also suggests the possibility of sharing the holy places of Islam, Mecca and Media, among the different forms of Islam.

Among the various forms of discrimination, the report cites in particular those in the education system and in the judiciary, where the Shiite witnesses are often excluded by the courts because of their religion.

Since King Abdullah came to power, the influence of the muttawa has decreased and some glimmers of religious freedom are visible.

But the relationship between Sunnis and Shiites goes beyond religious intolerance. It involves political problems and difficult relations between Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority countries such as Iraq and especially Iran.

 
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