Has the 11-month Arab revolt reached Saudi Arabia? Or been imported? This week saw weeks of simmering unrest in the Shiite-populated eastern oil regions boiling over. Wednesday, Oct. 5, the Saudi Ministry of Interior warned it would "strike with an iron fist" against any breaches of the country's stability and security after security officers came under automatic fire and Molotov bombs fired from motorbikes in Saudi Arabia's richest oil center in the eastern region of Qatif.
Saudi officials blamed "a foreign country" and "mercenaries" after demonstrators fought the police with classical Iranian Revolutionary Guards tactics in the Shiite town of al Awamiya near the kingdom's largest oil terminal at Ras Tanura: In one incident, the security police were allowed to break up demonstrations. But when they chased the ringleaders into the alleys, they were ambushed with machine gun and automatic fire. Eleven officers were injured but as they retired with their wounded, they were hit a second time by Molotov-wielding motorcyclists with two riders – one driving and the other shooting.
It was the Saudi security police's first experience of this level of violence after more or less escaping the spillover of Arab revolts in other countries.
On Wednesday too, oil prices jumped $2.79 to $78.46 – both because of the unrest in Saudi Arabia, the sharp dip in US crude stocks and the steps President Barack Obama is due to unveil for stimulating the US economy.
To put down the riots before they spilled over into other parts of the oil kingdom, the Saudis Wednesday pumped large special forces into restive Qatif whose half a million Shiite inhabitants are employed in the Saudi oil industry, mostly in maintenance at the oil installations of Dhahran and Jubail. Spreading riots and work stoppages there would seriously impact Saudi oil exports.
Although Iran is not named in official Saudi communiqués – only "a foreign country seeking to undermine the security and stability of the homeland in blatant interference in national sovereignty," no one in Riyadh doubts Tehran's hand in the unrest, using its own and Hizballah undercover agents to smuggle the guns through neighboring Bahrain to Shiite activists in Al-Awamiya and teaching them assault tactics.
Last week, Riyadh sent military reinforcements to Bahrain to help suppress a new wave of disturbances after discovering that the Shiite activists in Bahrain and Qatif had linked up for action. The Saudi expeditionary force in the tiny neighboring kingdom has been more than doubled to 3,600 fighting men plus 30 tanks.
Echoing the slogans of the uprisings in other Arab lands, Mohamed al-Saeed, a Qatif resident, accused the Saudi state of ruthlessly suppressing the protest. “For the third day our families in Awwamiya town and Qatif live under brutal crackdown by Saudi forces, just because they went out and [asked] for our human rights and freedom.”