Saudi government improves relations with southern Shiites by granting land
Saudi Arabia has said it will grant free land to inhabitants of a mainly Shiite region near its border with Yemen. State news agency SPA said that King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz had decided to allocate about 1,200 sq km to people in Najran.
Saudi authorities are keen to improve security along the border with Yemen, a country they see as a possible staging post for attacks against them by Al Qaida.
Mohammad Al Askar, a leading Shiite activist, said the decision had met a „principal demand” addressed to the king in a petition about two years ago. He said 40,000 Najranis were waiting for land, some of them for 20 years.
The move coincided with a visit by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh for talks with King Abdullah, which Saudi state media said included discussion of terrorism.
2 June 2009
Analysis and forecast (↓ decreasing risk)
Najran is a region of Saudi Arabia with a large Shiite population. It shares a porous mountainous border with Yemen. With Al Qaeda increasing its strength in Yemen and combing its activities in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, this border area is seen as a major crossing point for Al Qaeda to smuggle weapons and terrorists between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Although Al Qaeda and the Shiites are natural rivals, a disgruntled Shiite population in Najran would help Al Qaeda both for financial reasons (due to poverty in this part of the country), as well as a perceived common enemy (the Saudi regime).
Relations between the Saudi government and the Shiite population of Najran have been tense, amid calls for greater rights. The Saudi king changed the Najran governor last year after opposition from Shiite residents. This latest move is seen as an important step towards improving the relations between the Saudi regime and the local population. An improved relationship between the government and the Najran population is vital to making it difficult for the Al Qaeda to easily use this part of the border for the smuggling of weapons and men.