In the NY Times they had an article on the possible partition of Middle Eastern countries in the wake of the Syrian uprising. It long has been taught that the borders of the Middle East are a “mistake” made by the Western powers when they carved the region up amongst themselves. The unspoken message is that all the “troubles” in the area would have been avoided had the Western powers split the countries up according to tribal, religious or other lines that could have resulted in more cohesive states. Much of this may be true – many of the borders appear arbitrary – and yet lands and territories changed hands many times across the historical record.
An area of interest to me is Eastern Saudi Arabia, which the NY Times listed (as conjecture) as possibly a separate country. On many dimensions that is logical; the population of that province has a large Shiite composition and this makes it distinct from the rest of Saudi Arabia (which is supposedly 95% Sunni, although figures are not necessarily to be trusted). Historically these Shiites faced heavy discrimination, (data is sketchy and incomplete) as summarized in this wikipedia article:
They have usually been denounced as heretics, traitors, and non-Muslims. Shias were accused of sabotage, most notably for bombing oil pipelines in 1988. A number of Shias were even executed. In response to Iran’s militancy, the Saudi government collectively punished the Shia community in Saudi Arabia by placing restrictions on their freedoms and marginalizing them economically.Wahabi ulama were given the green light to sanction violence against the Shia. What followed were fatwas passed by the country’s leading cleric, Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz which denounced the Shias as apostates. Another by Adul-Rahman al-Jibrin, a member of the Higher Council of Ulama even sanctioned the killing of Shias. This call was reiterated in Wahabi religious literature as late as 2002.
While these sorts of oppressive behaviors on the parts of the majority are generally tied to rebellion and are logical for the NY Times to think of as possible separate states, this neglects the key fact that the world’s largest oil field, the Ghawar Field, is located in that province. The idea that the Sunnis in Saudi Arabia would give up their oil, which accounts for 80% of revenues, is incredibly naive. The Saudis would never give up their oil, for it is the sole engine of their economy and standard of living. It isn’t known what they’d do if there was a serious rebellion in the area, but I would have to assume that they would take whatever steps were necessary to curtail it and keep the oil flowing. It should be relatively easy for the Saudi government to accomplish this due to their wealth and strength in numbers.
One way to do this would be just to hire mercenaries, which is a tool that the (minority) government in Bahrain is using to hold onto power. Bahrain’s situation is trickier since the Sunni government is a minority in this oil-rich country, but the use of force and violence has been enough to keep the rebellion at bay. One tool for the Bahrain government has been to hire Sunni mercenaries:
For decades, the Bahraini authorities have been recruiting Sunni foreign nationals in the security forces from different countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq (Ba’athists), Yemen and Pakistan (Baluch) in order to confront any popular movement that usually comes from the Shia majority.
The idea that governments will give up valuable resources in the name of minority rights is a laughable Western idea. The NY Times map is a non-starter. The wealthy and powerful will not give up the (sole) source of their wealth without a tremendous fight from a determined and powerful enemy.
Cross posted at LITGM