Saudi Forces Flatten Shia District

The UN has slammed the move.The UN has slammed the move.

Saudi elite forces are in the process of razing the historic quarter of a largely Shia town in the country’s eastern province after months of clashes with gunmen in the area.

The move is the culmination of a three-month government campaign to root out what Saudi forces claim are gunmen from the 400-year-old Musawara neighborhood of Awamiya. The government considers the area to be a breeding ground for opposition groups and the center of anti-government protests, where many locals have chafed under oppressive Saudi rule, CNN reported.

In recent weeks, Saudi police stepped up operations in Musawara and dispatched commandos, the Saudi special forces, to the area. A government source tells CNN, Saudi forces are nearly “95% done” flushing out the fighters and the area is expected to be cleared within days.

Musawara is home to up to 3,000 people, all of whom, the government says, are being evicted with compensation and alternative housing.

The UN has slammed the move, with the special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, warning that demolitions would “erase” the neighborhood’s “unique regional heritage.”

Saudi authorities have said they are seeking to eliminate a “terrorist threat” that has targeted security forces in the area for more than six years, while activists say the anti-government campaign has been predominantly peaceful.

  Sheikh Nimr’s Hometown

Arguably the most dangerous town in Saudi Arabia, Awamiya was the hometown of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was a leading figure in the province.

Al-Nimr —who took center stage after a tide of protests known as the Arab Spring that swept through the Arab world in 2011— was a fiery anti-government figure who repeatedly called for a nonviolent uprising.

In Saudi Arabia, the Arab Spring took root in Awamiya and the rest of the eastern province of Qatif, home to millions of Shia Muslim Saudis who have long believed they hold second-class status in the oil kingdom.

Al-Nimr was executed in January 2016, after being arrested in 2012 and convicted of inciting sectarian strife, sedition and other charges. It sparked protests in numerous towns and cities around the world. In Iran, protesters in the capital set fire to the Saudi Embassy, prompting the severing of ties between the two countries.

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