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."

 

Egypt delays Gaza talks after Israeli soldier kidnap

Libya jihadists declare Benghazi ‘Islamic emirate’

Morocco king deplores unequal wealth distribution

US plans largest ever sale of lethal missiles to Iraq

Qatar invests in Israeli soccer

Lebanon suspends work permits for Ebola-hit countries

Emirates Airline suspends flights to Guinea

Baghdad bomb blasts kill at least ten

Identification of Air Algerie crash victims ‘could take years’

Philippines prepares to evacuate 13,000 citizens from Libya

Jihadists fight on more than one front in Syria

Sudan Christian woman chooses US as final destination to settle down

France moves to disband violent Jewish group

Chief of Iran Quds Force ridicules calls to disarm Hamas

US supports Israel with weapons, Gaza with sweet words

Syria Kurds battle jihadists killing nearly 50

West watches post-Gathafi Libya descend in chaos

Carnage in Gaza Strip as death toll passes 1,300

Mosul’s residents rise up against jihadists

Militants fire at Tunisia army helicopter

Islamists capture key Benghazi army base

16 killed in Israeli shelling of UN school in Gaza

Italian fire-fighting planes to come to Libya rescue

Syria rebels advance towards Hama military airport

Bloodshed in Gaza surges amid no truce

Major western powers call for Libya ceasefire

US-Israeli ties sink to new depths over Gaza war

UN warns buying oil from terrorists could lead to sanctions

Air Algerie crash black boxes sent to France

Warning of Tripoli catastrophe after huge oil depot blaze

US, UN call for immediate Gaza ceasefire

Egypt army kills 14 jihadists in restive Sinai Peninsula

Calls for temporary Gaza ceasefire fall on deaf ears

Yemen army foils new Qaeda attempt to seize military posts

Investigators need ‘few days’ to probe cause of Algeria plane crash

Tunisia army suffers more losses in open war with terrorism

Jihadists advance amid escalation in Syria anti-regime offensive

Iraq Shiite militia takes bloody revenge against ‘Islamic State’ in Baquba

Fierce clashes kill at least 38 people in Benghazi

Israel resumes devastating military assault on Gaza

Thousands face famine as food security situation worsens in Somalia

Death toll in Gaza climbs as fragile ceasefire reveals destruction

Egypt summons Turkey charge d'affaires for second time in one week

‘Islamic State’ jihadists dynamite Shiite shrine in Mosul

US evacuates embassy staff in Libya over ‘real risk’