The Qatif conflict is a modern phase of sectarian tensions and violence in Eastern Arabia between Arab Shia Muslims and Arab Sunni majority, which has ruled Saudi Arabia since early 20th century. The conflict encompasses civil unrest which has been sporadically happened since the 1979 uprising, pro-democracy and pro-human rights protests and occasional armed incidents, which increased in 2017 as part of the 2017–20 Qatif unrest.[3]

Qatif conflict
Part of the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict

Map of Saudi Arabia, with Eastern Province (including Qatif region) highlighted.
Date26 November 1979 – present

 Saudi Arabia

Iran-backed Shia militants (1980s–1990s)[1]

Saudi Shia civilians
Commanders and leaders
Unknown Unknown
Unknown Unknown



Since Al-Hasa and Qatif were conquered and annexed into the Emirate of Riyadh in 1913 by Ibn Saud, Shiites in the region had experienced state of oppression. Unlike most of Saudi Arabia, Qatif has a Shiite majority, and the region is also being of key importance to the Saudi government due to its closeness to the bulk of Saudi oil reserves as well as the main Saudi refinery and export terminal of Ras Tanura, which is situated close to Qatif.[4]



1979 uprising


The 1979 Qatif Uprising was a period of unprecedented civil unrest that occurred in Qatif and Al-Hasa, Saudi Arabia, in late November 1979. The unrest resulted in 20-24 people killed in what was described as a sectarian outburst of violence between the Shi'a minority and Sunni majority in Saudi Arabia and the beginning of the modern phase of the Qatif conflict.

1979–83 crackdown


After the 1979 uprising, the Saudi authorities have engaged in systematic persecution of Shi'a activists in Qatif, with an estimated 182-219 killed by 1983 (including the 1979 events).[5]

Arab Spring protests 2011–12


With the coincidence of the events of the Arab Spring in most Arab countries, especially in Bahrain, on February 17, hundreds of Shiites went out in Qatif to demand economic reforms in Qatif and Al-Ahsa, and to demand Shia rights in Saudi Arabia, and this continued until 2012, and 20 Shiite demonstrators and 4 security forces were killed. And 952 people were arrested, then 735 people were released[6]

The protests in Saudi Arabia were part of the Arab Spring that started with the 2011 Tunisian revolution. Protests started with a self-immolation in Samtah[7] and Jeddah street protests in late January 2011.[8][9] Protests against anti-Shia discrimination followed in February and early March in Qatif, Hofuf, al-Awamiyah, and Riyadh.[10] A Facebook organiser of a planned 11 March "Day of Rage",[11][12] Faisal Ahmed Abdul-Ahad,[13] was allegedly killed by Saudi security forces on 2 March,[13][14][15] with several hundred people protesting in Qatif, Hofuf and al-Amawiyah on the day itself.[16] Khaled al-Johani demonstrated alone in Riyadh,[16] was interviewed by BBC Arabic Television, was detained in ʽUlaysha Prison,[17][18] and became known online as "the only brave man in Saudi Arabia".[17] Many protests over human rights took place in April 2011 in front of government ministry buildings in Riyadh, Ta'if and Tabuk[19][20] and in January 2012 in Riyadh.[21] In 2011, Nimr al-Nimr encouraged his supporters in nonviolent resistance.[22]

Execution controversy of Nimr al-Nimr


On 15 October 2014, al-Nimr was sentenced to death by the Specialized Criminal Court for "seeking 'foreign meddling' in [Saudi Arabia], 'disobeying' its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces".[23] Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International stated that the death sentence was "part of a campaign by the authorities in Saudi Arabia to crush all dissent, including those defending the rights of the Kingdom's Shi'a Muslim community."[24]

Nimr al-Nimr's brother, Mohammad al-Nimr, tweeted information about the death sentence[23] and was arrested on the same day.[24]

The head of Iran's armed forces warned Saudi Arabia that it would "pay dearly" if it carried out the execution.[25]

In March 2015 the Saudi Arabian appellate court upheld the death sentence against al-Nimr.[citation needed]

On 25 October 2015, the Supreme Religious Court of Saudi Arabia rejected al-Nimr's appeal against his death sentence. During an interview for Reuters, al-Nimr's brother claimed that the decision was a result of a hearing which occurred without the presence or notification of al-Nimr's lawyers and family. This being said, he still remained hopeful that King Salman would grant a pardon.[26][27][28] However, on January 2, 2016, al-Nimr was executed.[29][30]

Unrest (2017–2020)


The 2017–20 Qatif unrest occurred in the Qatif region (within Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia) between the Saudi government and the Shia militants until it died down in 2020. It began in May 2017 after an incident on 12 May when a child and a Pakistani young man were shot and killed.[31] In the same month, Saudi authorities erected siege barricades in Awamiyah and attempted to bulldoze the al-Musawara residential area. The conflict became an armed conflict, with about 12–25 people killed in shelling and sniper fire during May and the following few months.[32]

On 11 May 2019, 8 militants were killed in a firefight with Saudi security forces in the Sanabis neighborhood of Qatif.[33]

On 7 January 2020, The "most dangerous wanted terrorist" in Qatif was captured after he fired on a security patrol, according to state-run news media[34] effectively ending the 2017–20 Qatif unrest.

Demonstrations (2022)


On 14 March 2022, thousands of Shi'ite protestors took to streets after the executions of several Shi'ites in alleged unfair trials.[citation needed]

Human rights


See also



  1. ^ a b "Reform Promises More of the Same for Saudi Arabia's Shiites". Stratfor. 24 January 2017. Archived from the original on 17 October 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  2. ^ Turki al-Suhail (25 August 2017). "Iran Planned to Revive 'Hezbollah Al-Hejaz' Under Al-Mughassil's Command". Asharq Al-Awsat. Archived from the original on 1 September 2017. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  3. ^ Abouzzohour, Yasmina (March 8, 2021). "The survival of Arab monarchies, 10 years after the Arab Spring". Brookings Institution.
  4. ^ Nehme, Michel G. (October 1994). "Saudi Arabia 1950–80: Between Nationalism and Religion". Middle Eastern Studies. 30 (4): 930–943. doi:10.1080/00263209408701030. JSTOR 4283682.
  5. ^ JAY PETERZELL (1990-09-24). "The Gulf: Shi'Ites: Poorer Cousins". TIME. Archived from the original on 2011-01-20. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
  6. ^ "3 جرحى من الشرطة السعودية بهجوم مسلح في القطيف | جفرا نيوز". 2023-06-01. Archived from the original on 2023-06-01. Retrieved 2023-08-01.
  7. ^ "Man dies after setting himself on fire in Saudi Arabia". BBC News. 23 January 2011. Archived from the original on 23 January 2011. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
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  10. ^ Laessing, Ulf; Matthew Jones (5 March 2011). "Saudi Arabia says won't tolerate protests". Reuters. Archived from the original on 10 February 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  11. ^ Spencer, Richard; James Kirkup; Nabila Ramdani (21 February 2011). "Libya: Muammar Gaddafi's regime on the brink of collapse". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 24 February 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  12. ^ "Middle East unrest: Saudi and Bahraini kings offer concessions". The Guardian. 23 February 2011. Archived from the original on 1 March 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Saudi-Arabiens Mächtige werden nervös". Handelsblatt (in German). DPA. 2 March 2011. Archived from the original on 5 March 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
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  15. ^ Bustamante, Tom (2 March 2011). "Iraq Oil Refinery Attack Shows Need for EarthSearch (ECDC) Systems". Wall Street Newscast. Archived from the original on 6 March 2011. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
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  19. ^ Alsharif, Asma; Jason Benham (10 April 2011). "Saudi unemployed graduates protest to demand jobs". Reuters. Archived from the original on 13 April 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  20. ^ "Scuffles break out as teachers protest for job stability, higher wages". Arab News. 11 April 2011. Archived from the original on 12 April 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
  21. ^ "Saudi police break up rare Riyadh demo". Press TV. Ahlul Bayt News Agency. 14 January 2012. Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
  22. ^ Cowburn, Ashley (2 January 2016). "Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr profile: A 'holy warrior' who called for elections in Saudi Arabia". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 March 2017. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  23. ^ a b "Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr 'sentenced to death'". BBC News. 15 October 2014. Archived from the original on 15 October 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  24. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia: Appalling death sentence against Shi'a cleric must be quashed". Amnesty International. 15 October 2014. Archived from the original on 17 October 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014.
  25. ^ The Shia in Saudi Arabia: The sword unsheathed Archived 2017-10-08 at the Wayback Machine,
  26. ^ "Saudi court upholds death sentence for Shi'ite cleric". Reuters. 25 October 2015. Archived from the original on 29 October 2015. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
  27. ^ Brittany Felder (26 October 2015). "Saudi Arabia top court confirms death sentence of Shiite Muslim Cleric". JURIST. Archived from the original on 27 October 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  28. ^ October 26, 2015. "Saudi Arabia court confirms Shia cleric death sentence" Archived 2015-10-27 at the Wayback Machine. Al Jazeera. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  29. ^ "Saudi announces execution of 47 'terrorists'". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on 2 January 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
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  32. ^ McKernan, Bethan (4 August 2017). "Inside the Saudi town that's been under siege for three months by its own government". The Independent. Archived from the original on 5 July 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
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  34. ^ "Saudi Arabia arrests 'most dangerous wanted terrorist' in eastern province". Al Arabiya. 7 January 2020. Retrieved 8 January 2020.