Saudi Arabia’s New King Salman; Persecution May Increase

March 27, 2015 by Open Doors in Middle East

Saudi Arabia has not been much affected by the Arab uprisings. There have been some calls for political reform and small scale protests in several cities, especially in Eastern Province where Shiites called for the release of political prisoners. The government banned all marches and protests and raised public sector salaries and provided some benefits: religious authorities received additional funding. Also, extra housing units for low-paid workers were financed. A few minor reforms were promised or implemented, such as relatively easing restrictions on women (including granting them the right to vote in municipal elections in 2015). This will probably prevent further major uprisings. On an international level, Saudi troops helped crush Shiite pro-democracy demonstrations in neighboring Bahrain in March 2011. Behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia played a guiding role in the Arab Spring revolts, for example, by offering refuge to the leaders of Tunisia and Yemen, and financially supporting Islamist parties in the region and crushing Shiite pro-democracy demonstrations in neighboring Bahrain.

The country is an absolute monarchy, and its royal and ruling family – the House of Saud – includes approximately 7,000 members, of whom about 200 have political influence. Political parties are not allowed. The relationship between the religious establishment and the Sauds is uneasy and determined by conflicting and complying interests. With the death of King Abdullah on January 23rd of this year, his 79-year-old half-brother, Salman, is now the reigning king, and many believe this succession could cause trouble.

Crown Prince Salman is said to be very cautious to reform, much like his predecessor, and many expect a continuation of Abdullah’s policies to be upheld. It has been reported, however, that Salman has been far friendlier to Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, than Abdullah was.

Centuries ago, Saudi Arabia had a large Christian population, and there were even churches with clergy and synagogues. During the conquest of Islam, from the 7th to the 10th century, Jews and Christians were expelled from the country or forced to convert to Islam. Today, public Christian worship is forbidden in Saudi Arabia, and its citizens are only allowed to adhere to Islam. There are an estimated 1,250,000 Christians in Saudi Arabia, though most are foreign workers from Asian, African or Western descent. The majority of Christian migrant workers are from the Philippines and India and of Catholic extractions.

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