Has the Arab Spring unrest that began sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa earlier this year finally spread to Saudi Arabia?
Clashes erupted between protesters and Saudi security forces in the oil-rich eastern part of the kingdom earlier this week, according to state media.
Eleven policemen were injured when demonstrators hurled molotov cocktails and opened fire on security forces, reported the official Saudi Press Agency.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia blamed unnamed foreign nations for stoking the unrest and pledged to quash demonstrations with an “iron fist.”
“The Ministry of Interior affirms that it will not tolerate any breach of the stability and security of the country and its citizens,” reported the Saudi Press Agency on Oct. 4. “The Ministry of Interior will deal with any mercenary or misled person by force and will strike with an iron fist whoever wishes to do so.”
The protests broke out in the eastern cities of al-Awamiya and Qatif, both of which are predominately Shiite Muslim villages. The Media Line reports that Saudi Arabia’s minority Shiites, which comprise roughly 15 percent of the majority Sunni nation, regularly face economic and religious discrimination.
Saudi security officials have already “laid siege” on al-Awamiya, according to the Telegraph.
Saudi police sealed off the village of al-Awamiya in the east of the country on Monday night after using live fire to disperse Shia protesters, according to exiled Saudi dissidents.
20 people were reportedly injured when Saudi police responded with live ammunition to quell the protests.
“The Arabian Revolution” channel on YouTube is broadcasting multiple videos that claim to show the new unrest in Saudi Arabia, with images of protesters burning tires and police vehicles.
Bloomberg notes that the recents protests are raising new fears that continued unrest in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, could spark an increase in the price of petroleum.
The State Department issued an “emergency message” urging American citizens to avoid travel to several cities affected by the protests.