Would Iraq’s Sunnis want to be treated like Saudi Arabia’s Shia?

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2014 — As tension and unrest rise in Iraq, the Maliki government has been blamed for running a Shia regime that has “marginalized Iraq’s Sunnis.” Based on this premise, some have concluded that the marginalization is the reason Iraq’s Sunnis are supporting ISIS and welcoming them in their neighborhoods.

Although the Maliki government has shown a lot of weaknesses there are some interesting points to highlight. These are presented in an interesting Arabic article, by Dr Hamid al-Atiah, a well-known Iraqi and a member of Iraq’s parliament.

In his article, which was published on a number of Arabic websites such as Kitabat.info, al-Atiah wrote “Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accused the Iraqi government of marginalizing the Sunni population,” then asks whether Iraqi Sunnis would like to live as Shia do in Saudi Arabia.

The question raises a serious comparison.

Now that Saudi politicians are blaming the Iraqi government for isolating and marginalizing Sunnis, an examination of how Saudi Arabia treats its Shia minority is in order.

Shia in Saudi Arabia

Shia in Saudi Arabia make up 15 percent of the population. Despite claims by the Saudi government to the contrary, the Shia in the Saudi Kingdom are native Arabs with a well-known history in the area. Yet they have been treated as second-class citizens throughout their existence in the Kingdom.

Shia live under strict Sunni rule without representation in the government, and there has never been a single Shia Prime Minster. There most likely never will be one, at least not until the Saudi Royal family is no longer running the country as a kingdom.

Their children have no rights to profess their faith or talk about and practice their faith in school or elsewhere. No Shia can marry a Sunni in this country. No Shia holds any key official role, and Shia-populated areas are among the poorest neighborhoods in the country.

Although al-Sharqiyah is an oil rich area, Shia residents have not benefited from the oil income. Shia rituals are forbidden, and for Shia mere existence is a crime.

The Saudi Kingdom not only marginalizes this population, but also takes their identity away from them as if they do not exist.

Sunni in Iraq

Sunni practice their own faith in Iraq with no limitations. They publicize their faith proudly and they also have a number of representatives in the government. The speaker of the parliament, as well as the vice president and deputy prime minister, and a number of key ministries and embassies and several high positions of various agencies and the ministry of public administration are Sunnis. Specifically prime ministers of Department of Education, Department of Science and IT, Department of Agriculture and even Department of Electricity are all Sunnis.

Sunnis hold one third of the seats in the House of Representatives, which is about one hundred seats and proportionate to the share of the Iraqi population that is Sunni, while Saudi Shia hold only 5 out of 150 seats in the Saudi parliament, or about 3 percent. This is far from the 15 percent of the Saudi population that is Shia.

In Iraq, although some Sunni-populated cities are not major oil rich areas, they all benefit significantly from the oil income. In Iraq, Sunni and Shia can intermarry freely with no interference from the public or the government.

Sunni have a much better life in Iraq than Shia in Saudi Arabia. Yet the “ just and kind” king of Saudi Arabia accuses the Iraqi government of marginalizing this population.

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, Shia are not only marginalized, but their existence is threatened every day.

The point here is not to prove that the Shia-led Iraqi government is perfect or to ignore its weaknesses, but to implore the Saudi government to avoid hypocrisy and remove the beam from their own eye before trying to remove the speck from the eye of their Iraqi brethren.

As Shia Rights Watch has always said, Shia must be allowed to practice their citizenship rights and freedom of religion like all other members of the society.

Now dear King of Saudi Arabia, would you let your Shia population have some of the same power Sunnis have in Iraq?

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