Saudi Arabia's Shia pay price for rulers' fears about Iran

In late November in the Saudi Arabian city of Qatif, four young men were shot and killed by security forces over a four-day period.

Qatif, a port in the oil-rich Eastern Province, has a population of roughly half a million, almost all of whom are Shia. The men who were killed were Shia.

Eastern Province has a Shia majority which has long complained of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni ruling family, the Al Saud.

Emboldened by the Arab Spring and a popular uprising in neighbouring Bahrain, also with a Shia majority controlled by a Sunni royal family, protests flared up in March.

Marchers were calling for an end to discrimination and for constitutional reform. In a country where all street protests are illegal, the Saudi authorities were not slow to respond, arresting hundreds and breaking up demonstrations very quickly.

However, after the Bahrain uprising was crushed with the assistance of Saudi and other Gulf troops, the authorities started to come down even harder on dissent in Eastern Province.

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