QATIF, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Human rights activists in Saudi Arabia are rejecting government claims Shiite demonstrators are tools of Iran and Hezbollah.
The outbreak of civil unrest, which the Washington Post Friday termed the worst in years in Saudi Arabia, was sparked by the fatal shooting by police of an outspoken critic of the government's treatment of Shiites and needed no provocation from the outside world.
"Show me one person here who has any connection to Iran. Where is the evidence? There is none," Waleed Sulais of the Adala Center for Human Rights in Qatif told the Post.
The Post said the government was sticking to its assertions outside agitators were stirring up trouble among Shiites, whom the Post said have been long relegated to second-class status by the Sunni elite.
Although the prospect of the Arab Spring uprising spreading to oil-rich Saudi Arabia is cause for concern inside and outside The Kingdom, the protesters have thus far not called for the overthrow of the royal family but rather seek basic rights such as religious freedom and an end to job discrimination.
Critics told the Post the government was taking steps to mollify the Shiite community with an ambitious public spending plan; however they doubted throwing money at the problems would cool things down. "If the government would answer some of these demands, people would calm down," said Ahmed al-Meshaikhes of the Adala Center.