The behavior of the Saudi leadership only allows the conclusion that repression of the Shiites is a fundamental part of Saudi political legitimacy. The state does not want to change the position of the Shiites and Shiite protests are used by the state to frighten the Sunni population of an Iranian takeover of the oilfields with the help of local Shiites. Similar narratives have been propagated in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) media for months, at the cost of further deepening the sectarian divide in the Gulf States. The GCC intervention in Bahrain has severely worsened sectarian relations in the Gulf and beyond to levels not seen since the Iranian Revolution. But this open Saudi sectarianism has already had negative repercussions in Iraq, as well as in Syria, Lebanon, and Kuwait. Bahrain looks set for years of sectarian conflict, community relations have broken down completely, and the state is conducting a campaign of what Shiite activists call “ethnic cleansing.”
Rather than completely alienating the Shiites, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain should negotiate a social contract with them. Failing to do so will lead to years of instability with uncertain outcomes. And it is far from certain that other Saudis will not be encouraged by the Shiite protests, as a recent statement by liberal Saudis from all over the kingdom denouncing the crackdown in Qatif has shown.
The West should press its allies, above all Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, to stop simply shooting and arresting their Shiite citizens and brandishing them as Iranian agents and traitors. The alienation of Shiite youth foments a perfect breeding ground for a new Gulf Shiite opposition movement and plays into the hands of the Iranian regime. Even without external help for the local Shiite protesters, the area looks ripe for a return to the tense sectarian politics of the 1980s. The United States should in its own, and in the Gulf States’, interest push for a real reconciliation between the Shiites of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and their governments. Otherwise, sectarianism will come to dominate the Gulf, to the detriment of all.
He has newest piece on last week’s arrest/capture of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr here:
Saudi Arabia’s Shiite escalation
But I think analyses contained in this previous piece are more grounding - and insightful.