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  Updated: March 3, 2005

Saudi vote: Shiias, long kept down, hope to get rights

By: Abdulali

AL-QATIF, Saudi Arabia:  Saudi Shiias cast their ballots on Thursday in the second stage of unprecedented municipal elections with a surge of enthusiasm among them which has alarmed some extremists.
The Saudi Shiias, who have long complained of discrimination, believe the elections will give them a voice and official channels to communicate grievances in the country.
One candidate, Jaafar Ash-Shayeb, said the US-led war in Iraq and subsequent elections there had helped in "loosening up the situation" for Shiias in Saudi Arabia.
Most Shiia political prisoners have been released, travel bans lifted and exiles allowed to come home. Adhan, or the Calls to Prayer, can now mention Imam Ali (p)'s name. A ban on the Shiia practice of tatbeer, or cutting head with swords, to demonstrate grief over the unjust slaughter of grandson of holy Prophet (p) Al-Imam Al-Hussein (p) also has been lifted. A throng of young men performed this ritual no one can remember seeing here in public - beating their scalps with swords until they drew blood to mirror Al-Imam Al-Hussein (p)'s suffering.
Husseini mourners in this kingdom once marked Ashura in darkened, illegal community centers out of fear of stirring the powerful wrath of the religious establishment.
But this year Ashura fell on the eve of the 10-day campaign for municipal council elections and a bolder mood was readily apparent. Thousands thronged sprawling, sandy lots for hours to watch warriors on horseback re-enact the battlefield decapitation of Al-Imam Al-Hussein (p), in 680.
But Ash-Shayeb and others note these changes have not been formalized and say that without regulations banning discrimination against them, Shiias will still be treated as second-class citizens.
Other restrictions remain: Shiias cannot teach religious studies or hold sensitive government, security, school or hospital positions. Shiia publications are banned. School children are taught Shiias are deviants. There has been no Shiia cabinet minister, and only one Shiia ambassador - to Iran. There are no Shiia mayors or police chiefs, and not one of the 300 Shiia girls' schools in the Eastern Province has a Shiia principal.
Saudi Shiias believed that the government would at least start to regard them as citizens, especially after Crown Prince Abdullah met nearly two years ago with a group that presented a petition for equal rights, titled "Partners in the Nation."
Voting was held Thursday in Eastern Province, where the country's 3 million to 4 million Shiias are concentrated and which contains the country's richest oil fields but is less developed than other regions, and in also four regions of the south.
In their sermons, Shiia clergymen urged men to vote, saying they should not isolate themselves from others in the nation of 20 million people.
Some Shiia women, barred from voting like all Saudi women, called on mothers, sisters and daughters to encourage male relatives to take advantage of the opportunity for a say in decision-making in this absolute monarchy.
The electoral success of Iraq's long-suppressed Shiia community across the border added to Saudi Shiias' enthusiasm.  

Saudi Shiias take polls as a chance to assert their presence

AL-QATEEF, Saudi Arabia: As Shiias of Saudi Arabia, who make up majority in the oil-rich eastern parts of the kingdom, prepare to vote in the second round of landmark local elections, their leaders termed polls as a chance to assert the presence of the Shia as equal citizens.
  "Knowledge is better than wealth because it protects you while you have to guard wealth. it decreases if you keep on spending it but the more you make use of knowledge ,the more it increases . what you get through wealth disappears as soon as wealth disappears but what you achieve through knowledge will remain even after you."MORE ..  


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