17 Jan 2019
AWAMIYA, Saudi Arabia: The old quarter of Awamiya, a town on Saudi Arabia’s oil-producing eastern shore that was once the centre of Shi’ite protests, was levelled in 2017 following a security campaign against gunmen the authorities accuse of having links to Iran.
The district’s maze of mud brick homes and narrow alleyways, which militants used for years to launch surprise attacks against police, have now been replaced by a shopping complex, events hall and expansive plazas dotted with palm trees.
The Riyadh government, supportive of a puritanical strain of Sunni Islam that considers Shi’ite Muslims heretics, hopes investing in the broader area of Qatif after decades of alleged neglect will finally snuff out the violence.
These efforts are a test for the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has struck a conciliatory tone towards the kingdom’s Shi’ite minority while confronting arch-rival Iran in a decades-long struggle for influence across the Middle East.
Shi’ites have long complained of discrimination they say keeps them from senior government jobs, reduces state investment in their areas and leads to closures of centres of worship.