Stories surfaced today that troops opened fire on protesters in the Shiite town of Qatif.  Qatif is a small town located inside a lovely oasis in the oil rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.   Another town, Safwa, is also a Shiite village several miles from Qatif.  It is also near the entrance to the giganic Jubail gas plant.   This is not the first time that both villages protested and ultimately drew military into the city limits.  In 1979 I was a young project engineer and was going to look at a new construction camp that I was designing at Khursaniyah.  Early one morning I climbed on a helicopter to fly to the proposed housing site.  Soon after take-off the former Viet Nam veteran that was piloting the chopper asked if I minded if we veered off course a little.  I didn’t and ten minutes later we spotted the armored units blocking the entrance to each town.  There had been a religious holiday several days earlier and when someone led a donkey in a parade with the kings picture hanging from the tail, all hell broke loose.  Riots broke out, troops came in and there was loss of life.  Twelve years later a Saudi Engineer told me of one story of a cousin that was a member of the Saudi Special Forces and was in Safwa when the riots were taking place.  They weren’t sent in to pacify the inhabitants.  I only hope that the trouble reported today is the last of its’ kind; however, knowing the simmering friction between the shiites and the majority sunnis, it is probably only a matter of time before the top is blown off this pressure pot.  The biggest change is that today there are mobile phones, e-mail and immediate communications.  That didn’t exist in 1979 and a phone call took two days to schedule just to call the United States.   The economy of the world can not tolerate a major disturbance or especially the collapse of Saudi Arabia nor can the United States stand to lose its’ best friend, other than Israel,  in the Middle East.


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