The other Saudis: Shiism, dissent and sectarianism

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

In this lecture, Dr Matthiesen outlines the difficult experiences of being Shi’a in a Wahhabi state and casts new light on how the Shia have mobilised politically to change their position. The Shia have petitioned the rulers, joined secular opposition parties, and founded Islamist movements. Most Saudi Shia opposition activists profited from an amnesty in 1993 and subsequently found a place in civil society and the public sphere. But since 2011 a new Shia protest movement has again challenged the state. Dr Matthiesen shows how exclusionary state practices created an internal ‘other’ and how sectarian discrimination has strengthened Shia communal identities. The lecture is based on Dr Matthiesen’s research on little know Arabic sources, extensive fieldwork in Saudi Arabia and interviews with key activists. Of immense geopolitical importance, the oil-rich Eastern Province where most of the Shia reside is a crucial but little known factor in regional politics and Gulf security.

Toby Matthiesen is a Research Fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. He was previously a Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His first book “Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Spring That Wasn’t” was published by Stanford University Press in 2013. The book examined the root causes of sectarianism and outlined how the Gulf states responded to protests at home and in the wider Arab world. From 2007 to 2011 he wrote his doctorate on the politicisation of Saudi Arabia’s Shia community at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His second book, "The Other Saudis: Shiism, Dissent and Sectarianism", which is based on his PhD, has been published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.