First Published: 2008-02-18

 
Saudi Shiites fear demographic balance change
 

Ismaili Shiites of Najran oppose plans to settle Sunni Muslim Yemenis in southern Saudi Arabia.

 

Middle East Online

By Andrew Hammond - RIYADH

Najran is the historic centre of the Ismailis



Saudi Shiites have asked the authorities to scrap plans to settle Sunni Muslim Yemenis in southern Saudi Arabia to change the demographic balance in an area where they are the majority.

The Ismaili Shiites of Najran, bordering Yemen, say they had successfully petitioned King Abdullah two years ago to halt settlement of up to 10,000 Yemeni tribesmen in housing projects built for them on large tracts of land surrounding Najran city.

But a protest letter sent last month to the governor of Najran province, Prince Mishaal bin Saud, complains of marginalisation and says plans to settle another Yemeni tribe must stop.

"The king and a number of decision-makers promised the citizens of Najran that settlement would stop ... it appears that settlement is a deliberate and extensive project," it says, referring to thousands of Najranis it says have long been overlooked when seeking similar state largesse.

"We received assurances that some issues might be resolved, but others will take time," said Mohammed Al-Askar, an Ismaili activist involved in drawing up the petition.

Najran is the historic centre of the Ismailis, a Shiite sect which has long complained of victimisation by the prevailing school of Sunni Islam followed by the Saudi state.

Najran was the scene of violent clashes in 2000, when hundreds of Ismailis clashed with police. Ismailis say that was the spur for plans to dilute their presence with Sunnis but that the settlement policy could provoke more social unrest.

The government's Human Rights Commission has said previously it is looking into the Najran issue.

"We really do not know much about what's going on," said Turki al-Sudairy, head of the official body on Monday. "I'm not sure what information to believe. We don't have a man there."

An Interior Ministry official declined to comment.

Ismailis are thought to form a large majority in the remote region whose population was put at 420,000 in a 2004 census.

On a recent trip to the region, large billboards signed in the name of Yemeni tribal leaders had been erected to thank the local governor and senior Saudi royals for funding some of the housing projects - prim towns with grid street designs, one storey villas, street lighting and electricity.

"It's a form of racial discrimination. We don't have services," said Said, 30, pointing to a map on the wall of a deserted office outlining plans for new housing units.

"There are families here who cannot get a new house or a legal deed to the land they live on. Even the children of the newcomers are given pieces of land."

 

Moscow seeks to boost its influence in Kurdistan through oil

Tillerson does not expect Gulf crisis to be resolved soon

Lebanon approves first budget since 2005

Iraq army takes last Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province

Ancient Turkish town set to vanish forever under floodwaters

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike

Yemen rebel youth minister urges children to join war

Iran's Guards show no intention of curbing activities in Mideast

EU will cut some money for Turkey as ties sour

Iraqi workers return to oil fields retaken from Kurds

Kurdish disarray shows resurgence of Iraq's army

Iranian military chief visits frontline near Syria's Aleppo

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 110 people over Gulen links

Hamas calls US unity comments ‘blatant interference’

OPEC chief pleased with oil market rebalancing

Turkish police detain leading civil society figure

G7, tech giants meet to tackle terror online

Iraq’s Kurdish regional government open to Baghdad talks

Tensions flare among Yemen's rebels

Baghdad court issues arrest warrant for Iraqi Kurd VP

Erdogan, Nigerian counterpart to ramp up cooperation

Russian medics operate on Yemen's Saleh despite embargo

Baghdad condemns oil deal between Russia’s Rosneft, Kurds

Power shifts again in Iraq's multi-ethnic Kirkuk

Syrian general accused of journalist deaths killed in Deir Ezzor

Raqa liberators ready for civilian handover, on to next battle

Revolutionary Guards say Iranian missile program will continue

Erdogan calls on three major mayors to resign

ICC investigating several war crimes in Mali

Erdogan says may shut Iraqi border at any moment

Tunisian couple jailed for 'public indecency' over car kiss

Next round of Syria talks at end October

Gazans hope Palestinian reconciliation ends their woes

PSG's Khelaifi to be quizzed in Swiss World Cup probe

UN urges de-escalation in Iraq

Haley: Iran must be judged in totality of its aggressive behaviour

EU says Israeli settlements illegal under international law

Kurdish independence goes from dream to dust

Female commander more than just poster girl for Raqa victory

Saudi airline flies to Baghdad for first time in 27 years

Wanted Dead: France's approach to IS jihadists